How to best prepare your baby for daycare

One of the first daunting things we face as parents is the first day of daycare. Whether you are starting your baby at 3 months, or 1 year, the days leading up to their first day can be so nerve wracking.

Will my baby sleep? Will they drink their milk? Will they cry all day? How exhausted are they going to feel when I pick them up? ….All of these questions ran through my head when my daughter started daycare for the first time at 10 months. I later learned this was not the ideal start time since it is peak separation anxiety time for babies! Yikes.

However, once you get through the initial weeks, having a place you can take your baby, where they are well cared for and happy, is SUCH a relief. You will be able to focus on your work, or have a few hours off, while your little one is happily playing and entertained.  If you happen to get sick during the week, someone will be able to take care of your kiddo while you recover and you are going to be so grateful for their teachers, and for having someone else to rely on.

So how can you best prepare?

1. Know what questions to ask when you are touring daycares

I can’t stress this enough, and I also understand how hard it can be to know what the right questions are, especially when it is your first baby. T

Things you should look for when touring a facility:

  • How do they divide up the age groups?
  • What is the schedule for meals is like?
  • Is there a nap schedule?
  • Where is the sleep environment? Are babies going to sleep all at the same time? Do they follow parent requests? Do they have an app or a system to report the length of the nap? How are they putting the babies down?
  • Can you bring sleep items from home? lovies and sound machines?
  • Are the lights turned off for sleep or is there a separate sleep area?
  • Are they playing music during nap time? Or white noise? or nothing?
  • Do they allow babies to fall asleep on swings, or loungers? (this should be a huge no! It is dangerous and yet I see it happen all the time.)
  • When will the baby be moved up to the older classroom? What is the schedule in that room?

2. Pay attention to the communication.

Especially when it comes to sleep it makes a huge difference when the parents are notified accurately about naps. My kids have been in both daycares that record naps to the minute, and daycares that say “he slept well, I think about an hour”. When a baby is younger than 1, being able to have more details about their day is going to help you adjust their schedule accordingly.

Also, how receptive they will be to your requests will make a big difference as well. We all have different parenting styles and needs. The clients that I work with want their babies to have independent sleep skills. They want the daycare teachers to give their child the opportunity to fall asleep on their own, and to lay them down at the appropriate times so that the baby is set up for napping success. Other parents want daycare teachers to hold their babies and comfort them anytime they cry. Whatever you prefer, you need to see if the daycare workers will do that, and you should pick a daycare that aligns with your parenting choices to make everything easier.

3. Once you have the answers to the questions above, start adjusting your baby while at home. If possible, go for a gradual transition into daycare.

If there is a set schedule (usually for the 1 year and up crowd), or a regular feeding time, make sure you align what you do on the weekends and at home to that. If you have the flexibility from work, see if you can start half days first. Sending your baby for only a few hours in the morning, and still having nap time at home.

The start of daycare if very stimulating. If initially your baby can go and get used to the environment, but still come back and get a good nap in at home and recover from the excitement, it is going to make you both feel better. You may even be surprised that drop off is tearless and that your baby is loving daycare and in that case you can leave them for what will be their regular schedule sooner.

I think it is also nice to ease ourselves as parents. I know it was easier for me starting at a new daycare, knowing it was only a few short hours before I would be picking them up.

4. Early bedtimes the first few weeks

Like I mentioned, daycare is an extremely overwhelming environment. There is always ALOT going on and so much for your baby to take in.

Ask your daycare provider when the last nap ended, and make sure you offer sleep at an appropriate awake window after that. You may even need to shorten the awake windows if naps are short at school, or if your little one seems extra fussy and tired upon pick up.

If your baby falls asleep on the way home, let them. This will give you a cushion to do dinner and bedtime routine without feeling rushed and baby being exhausted.

5. Be prepared for the daycare bugs

It’s impossible to avoid. In our case, my kids usually get sick within the first 2 weeks of starting at a new place. As they have gotten older, the illnesses have lessened. I remember being super concerned about this before sending my daughter to daycare. I was imagining a slew of horrible viruses making their way to our home, and while I do admit, the sickness portion sucks, It isn’t as terrible as I imagined.

Usually, the kids come down with colds and the worst part has been that they spread the illness to the rest of the family, and sometimes we get into these cycles of constantly getting each other sick.

After a particularly bad bout of sickness last winter, I became more conscious of making sure everyone washed hands every time they came home, and either that helped, or summer killed the germs because recently we have been on a health streak that we hadn’t seen in a while. (note: this is also post covid where apparently all children were getting sick more often after many months of isolation and not being exposed to the regular viruses.)

Finally, be patient.

This is a big change for both you and your baby. It’s going to be ok. You will miss them, but you will also be grateful to have time for yourself. Your baby will adapt and there have been multiple studies done that show that babies who spend time at daycare do just as well as babies who are cared for at home. Do not let guilt and worry eat you up, and remember you are a wonderful parent.

I hope this helps.

With Love,

Steph