The Survival Guide To Starting Daycare
Whether you’re a new or seasoned mom, leaving your child in the care of someone else isn’t easy. I want to say that up front because I don’t think that’s said enough. Actually, it could be said every single day until the end of time and I’m still not sure that it would be enough. It truly is a difficult thing.
And mama, I want you to know (ps. I’m saying this right back to myself, fyi) that you are still that baby’s mother. Another caregiver will never take the place of you nor can they replace the type of love, attention & care that you can give. So, if this is one of your concerns about taking your child to daycare, whether it be to a center or an in-home daycare, know that your feelings are valid, true & that you’re 100% not alone.
When it was time for me to start thinking about what I needed to do to get myself and Oliver ready for daycare I didn’t realize how long the list was and how many questions I’d have. Each daycare is different and so I highly recommend you check in with them during your tours or giving them a call a few weeks before and make sure you’re clear on what you should & should not send with your little one.
I’m writing this survival guide from the perspective of what I wish I had when I was getting everything together. Truthfully, a lot of my questions were answered in Facebook Mom groups so if you still have questions after reading this, definitely check them out.
All right, mama, you ready? Here we go!
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The Survival Guide to Starting Daycare
1| Don’t act like it’s not happening because it is, in fact, happening
One of the things I think I can pat myself on the back for is that I wasn’t in denial about daycare. It was always in the back of my mind and I talked about it quite often with my husband. Sure, I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to send him to daycare or if I’d rather get a in-home nanny but I continued to remind myself that in a few short weeks I was going to let someone else take care of my little one while I was at work.
2| Take a tour of your daycare (maybe two or three!)
As mamas, it’s a big deal to take our children to a new place and walk away hoping that they’ll take as good of care of them as we will. One of the things that made me feel a bit better was doing a tour of the center with my baby. Being able to take my time, walk around the facility, meet the teachers, see how the staff engages with my little one and really ask all the necessary questions helped a lot with knowing if this was the right decision. And don’t be afraid to ask for additional tours. The staff has worked with many families and should understand if you’d like to come back a second or third time around to begin to feel more comfortable.
3| Ask about their food handling procedures
Besides a safe and clean(ish) environment (let’s be real, most daycare centers are just going to be germy!), the next most important thing is food safety. Whether you’re a breastfed mama, formula mama, solid food mama or some mix of all of the above, you’ll want to make sure the caregiver is handling your baby’s food properly. Do the bottles need to be made before arrival or will they make it onsite? Can you bring in a few extra from your freezer stash in case you’re running late or your baby is hungry? Is homemade food allowed or must they eat from their menu? These are all valid questions and probably ones they’ve heard before, so don’t feel weird about asking!
Also, for the breastfed mama’s out there - please make sure you do your research and talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant about the amount of food your baby needs to be properly nourished and not overfed while away from you. From what I’ve heard (and experienced a bit) some centers will feed the baby all of the bottle as fast possible so that they will stop crying. This may end up in the center going through the milk faster than they need to and then them asking you to send more milk. So, talk to all people involved to make sure you’re pumping enough and your baby is eating enough & gaining proper weight.
4| Organize the daycare backpack
This step was the one I was most concerned about when we were preparing for daycare. I kept asking myself what all did he need? Should I get extra bibs? What about blankets? Do I need to send his DockATot with him? What about his favorite toy? The questions and the list of things can be long. But, check with your daycare or caregiver - most have a list of things you must provide from Day 1 for your baby. I was surprised that they didn’t want me to provide any blankets, bibs, towels or swaddles - they said they had it covered! And just an FYI, no, the DockATot shouldn’t (and probably can’t) go with your baby no matter how much it helps them sleep. For the first day I took a big box of diapers, two pacifiers, 3 extra sleepers and a pair of socks. I also made sure all the bottles were labeled with my son’s name.
5| Know that crying is normal
For you & for the baby. I cried all day long the day before we dropped our son off for his first day at daycare. And I let myself cry as much as I wanted or needed. This is normal and you’re not alone. Again, this is a big deal! So let yourself feel everything you’re feeling and know that you may cry a lot the day before, the morning of, in the car after drop off, on the way to work, a few times at your desk and maybe in the bathroom. All of this, some of this or none of this is completely okay. And remember, the daycare or caregiver is used to tearful parents on the first day or two, so there is no shame in this. Our daycare gave us a “new parent bag” filled with tissues, their contact information and a Starbucks gift card. This was a nice added touch and let us know that they are sensitive to this transition.
6| Give them a call & ask for pictures
Knowing that our babies are okay will help with the transition to daycare. Many daycare centers or caregivers use an app where you can see notes or pictures from the day. If this feature isn’t yet available, ask if they’d be willing to text you a few photos throughout the day or if they mind you calling around lunch time to see how your baby is doing. Seeing our baby sleeping, smiling or on the floor with other babies has helped when I’ve really missed him or wondered if he was okay.
7| It gets easier...kind of
Truthfully, it will never feel “normal” to hand our baby over to someone we barely know. But as time goes on and you continue to talk to the caregiver(s) and get to know the other mom’s and their babies in the room, your fear will start to lessen. The timing on this is different for everyone so don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. If this takes you 1 week, great! But it may take you a month or more. Know that this experience is just like any other relationship - it takes time until you feel completely comfortable and get used to this new normal. I can’t say you’ll ever be happy to drop your baby off (although if they’re throwing a tantrum, you never know!) but, give yourself the time and space to get used to this transition on your timeline. There is no right or wrong way to go about this new season of life - just what works for you, baby and your family.
Starting daycare is another new part on the journey of being a new mom. It’s a bit scary, weird, exciting and everything in between. It’s okay to be nervous, sad and happy all at the same time because that’s exactly what this transition feels like! Really lean on your support system as you take the necessary time to feel more comfortable. And know that above all, nothing feels better than seeing them light up and smile when you walk in the room to pick them up at the end of the day. After all, there’s no better caregiver in the world for that baby than you, mama!