There comes a time for most families to send their kids to daycare. It’s not easy at first – especially if your child is just a baby, but like every other notch on the parenting journey, you will conquer this too.
For my family, my husband and I work at home as business owners, so we decided to keep our son home until age two and a half. Working with our sweet, rambunctious boy, constantly interrupting, was becoming impossible. For many families, the daycare phase can come as early as six weeks after maternity leave is exhausted and sometimes even after four weeks. Some U.S. companies have paid maternity leave policies ranging from 6-8 weeks on average) and then there is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which gives 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave (you cannot do both – parents must choose either paid leave based on their employer’s policy or 12 weeks of unpaid leave via FMLA.).
Whether it’s six weeks, eight weeks, or 12 weeks, sending your baby to daycare is scary and nerve-wracking. When the time comes for your family to take the daycare adventure, here are ten tips to make the process easier and ensure your baby is in good hands.
How to Prepare to Send Your Baby to Daycare
Try to get your baby on the list at a daycare center as soon as possible because early childhood centers typically fill up and are challenging to get into on short notice. Here’s how to find the best daycare that will fit your needs:
Make a list of all the recommended daycares and leave space for notes on each.
Start by asking other moms about their favorite daycare and why. I love utilizing local mom groups on Facebook for questions like this.
Google each facility.
First, go to their website. You can tell a lot from their website, like the daycare’s mission, approach, schedule, programs, and story. Next, look at their Google reviews. Don’t dismiss a daycare if there are some bad reviews. Click on them and read because sometimes it’s genuinely the family and not the daycare who is causing issues. This happened with our daycare. A bad review was posted, and I knew it was 100% false – or at least the parent’s interpretation of the situation was false because my son had been attending this fabulous daycare for three years. If the positive reviews greatly outweigh a few negative reviews, then it’s safe to keep them on your list.
Don’t rule out at-home daycares.
Usually, they take fewer children and may be a good fit for your needs.
2: Brainstorm Daycare Alternatives
There may be some options available that don’t require daycare right away. For example, my friend wanted to wait for daycare until her baby was six months old, so she came up with an alternative plan because she still had to return to work. She split four days out of the week between her mom and a nanny. Her husband, who works from home, watched the baby on the fifth day. She has an in-home daycare lined up for when the baby is six months old. Another idea is to introduce daycare gradually by sending your child half days or only a few days a week. This works only if you can work from home or arrange other help for the non-daycare days.
3: Arrange a Visit
After researching each recommended daycare, contact all the centers on your list. For us, we could rule out specific childcare centers right away just by an in-person visit. For older kids, bringing them with you on the visit is essential. Involving them in this process helps make the transition easier for them. With a newborn, it’s probably not as important to bring them, but the staff may want to see your adorable baby. Some daycare tours may also be conducted while you are still pregnant since it’s not uncommon for there to be a 6-month to a 1-year waiting list. When touring a daycare, I look for the following:
Look at toys and even the toys outside. Also, pay attention to the floors, corners, bathrooms, etc.
The staff should be happy, welcoming, and accommodating.
If it’s during snack or lunch, you can take a peek at what they are serving. We loved that our daycare was BYOL, but if the childcare center provides lunch, it does matter what they are feeding kids. For babies, this obviously isn’t a concern right away because of the milk and baby food, but it’s important to be aware of this when they get older.
Are the kids happy? Are they bored? Do you see them engaging in learning or fun activities?
Are the walls bare or filled with children’s artwork on display? Are there fun colors, toys, and furniture in the facility?
Have questions prepared in case the daycare doesn’t answer them:
What is the teacher-to-child ratio?
What is your approach to discipline?
What is the daily schedule?
Do you follow safe sleep practices?
How do you comfort an upset baby?
Are meals and snacks provided, or do we bring our own?
Are the toys regularly cleaned and sanitized? If so, how often?
How do you handle naps?
Does the facility have cameras?
How do you communicate with parents so that we know how our kids are doing?
Is the facility baby-proofed?
What is your nap routine for babies?
4: Mentally Prepare to Send Your Baby to Daycare
It’s okay to feel scared and nervous putting your baby in daycare. You are just getting into the groove of taking care of your little bundle, and now you ave to hand them off to some total stranger. You’re not alone. Moms usually feel a range of emotions – some rational and some irrational – like mom guilt, anxiety, sadness, and even relief. Mom guilt can creep in easily when you leave your baby all day with someone else. But remember, you researched diligently, visited multiple times, and have placed your baby in good hands. Your baby will still love you just as much, and just think how exciting it will be to pick up your little one every day.
Own your decision and know that you chose the best option for your baby. Expect to feel different emotions when sending your baby to daycare – and that’s okay. Process and stay positive. Each day at daycare gets easier and easier. Daycares have become a second family in our experience. It’s a nice bond that builds.
5: Trial Run
Knowing what to expect and how much time you need to send your baby to daycare helps prepare for that first real day. The day before, make sure to have your bags packed and ready to help relieve some stress. Do a trial drive to the daycare after completing a morning routine to see if you are on time, early, or need more time. Often, the childcare center will let you come in to visit and observe for 2-3 hours before the first drop-off day.
6: Pack Smart
Here’s a simple baby-packing list for daycare:
Diapers and wipes
A couple of spare outfits
Sleep items like a crib sheet and sleep sack
Comfort items like pacifiers or a lovey
Burp cloths and bibs
Bottles, milk, food, and snacks
If cold out, pack a hat, mittens, and a snowsuit
Pack the night before to save time in the morning. Make sure to label everything and mark on all sides so the name can be seen quickly, no matter which side the teacher grabs.
Write down your baby’s typical schedule. Make sure to include sleep routines, feeding times, and allergies or sensitivities. Then, discuss it with the teacher. Sometimes, the schedule may be different, but they will let you know and gradually get the baby on the daycare schedule. Being on the same schedule with the other kids makes it easier for the staff to take care of babies.
Also, find ways to stay up to date on your baby’s progress at daycare. Usually, there is an app or online parent portal to see daily updates and photos. Some daycares even have live video feeds that you can check anytime. My daycare only did photos and updates through an app, which was still great. They had cameras, but only for security purposes.
Finally, find the best way to reach your teacher and administrative staff should you have questions or need something. Of course, make sure they have the best way to contact you. Daycare is not an easy step to go through, but as you get to know the staff and see your baby thrive and learn, daycare becomes something you are very grateful for.
8: Short and Sweet
Drop-offs should be short and sweet. Not only are the teachers busy and need to get back to their kids, but prolonging the drop-off doesn’t help the child or the parent. Having a trial run helps with the real drop-off day. Create a drop-off ritual, hand your child off after you hug and kiss them, and never turn around after you leave. This was the best advice I got when I had a 2-year-old going into daycare because once you look back – even if they are crying – it makes it worse.
With babies, they won’t always realize mommy or daddy is leaving, but not looking or going back reassures the teacher that you are trusting them with your baby. Establishing this rapport is crucial. It also helps your baby adjust. The more you stall and turn around, the more challenging it will be for your little one.
9: Tears are Okay
I cried when I returned to my car on the first daycare drop-off day. It was happy tears because my child was not a tiny baby. I was feeling proud of this big next step. When dropping off a baby, however, it’s a lot different. Allow yourself to have those tears, and call someone on the phone to talk through it. It helps to talk to someone. My mom is always my go-to phone call. Some moms even take a day off from work on the first day of daycare drop-off. For me, I would rather keep busy at work, however.
10: Watch Baby Thrive When You Send Them to Daycare
One of the best parts of daycare is that it gives babies a healthy learning environment to grow and thrive — kids in daycare gain many developmental benefits1,2,3. I was in complete awe at what my child did in just one day at daycare, from circle time to endless arts and crafts, learning activities, outside play, story time, free play, snacks, lunch, naps, and so much more.
Benefits of Daycare
Here are some great benefits to sending your child to daycare:
Teaches children how to share and take turns.
Provides practice making new friends, being part of a team, and playing well with others.
Helps hone communication skills.
Teaches problem-solving, compromise, and conflict-resolution techniques.
Encourages children to demonstrate cooperation, inclusion, and compassion.
Eases separation anxiety as children interact with other children and adults.
Teaches children to respect and listen to non-parent authority figures.
Gives children time to adjust to school-like schedules and routines.
In addition to the social skills that kids learn, sending your baby to daycare can help to provide a consistent routine. Cadence Education says, “As new little humans in a big world, children need a solid foundation of structure and stability to learn and grow. Having a consistent schedule and routine is one of the big benefits of daycare: it’s a great way to provide structure for children, which allows them to predict and anticipate what’s next.”
So when sending your baby to daycare, prepare by following these steps and know that daycare can truly be an extension of the home, like a second family. Our daycare was surely like family, and it’s so adorable as your child gets older. They really grow to adore and love their teachers so much. You’ve got this, mom (and dad too)!