How to Prepare a Baby for Daycare and Stop the Crying Before It Starts

The daycare handoff shouldn't come as a surprise.

In America, daycare is an expensive norm for parents unless they have financial independence or stay at home. That means that whether parents opt for a baby daycare facility or a child care center, their baby will go through a transition from parental supervision to the care of a stranger. That sounds tough for all concerned, and in truth, it can be. However, preparation is key. So is routine.

“The first day that an infant will be away from a parent is usually a foreseeable event,” explains Dr. Jack Maypole, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, and member of The Goddard School’s Educational Advisory Board. That means parents have time to prepare.

The first day of daycare shouldn’t be the first day mom and dad leave the baby with someone else.  Leaving the baby with a sitter for an hour or two to run errands does more than give a parent the chance to interact with other grown-ups. It helps identify potential problems and conditions the kid, demonstrating that mom and dad will come home (though this isn’t exactly critical as babies can’t remember much anyway).

How to Make the Daycare Transition Easier

  • Try it out – Leaving for short trips can help reveal the weakness in a family’s transition game and, depending on the age of the baby, show that mommy and daddy DO come home.
  • Bank milk ahead of time – Pumping parents may already have a stock of milk on hand, but it’s always better to have a little extra on hand for the caregiver than too little.
  • Make the good-byes quick – Say goodbye with all the sweetness a baby deserves, but then actually make it goodbye. Lingering and returning can be confusing to both baby and caregiver.

After a few daytime runs, mom and dad can try leaving the baby in daycare. Again, these should be short test runs – no more than an hour, with pick up times clearly communicated with the caregiver and an adequate amount of milk or formula supplied. This helps give both parents and the caregiver an idea of how that first day will go, though it may be too tricky to have the baby nap during these short runs.

Breastfeeding babies will need to have milk available for them, so if a mother isn’t pumping, she’s going to have to start.

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“Bank milk as far in advance as possible and provide an ample supply to your childcare provider,” advises Dr. Maypole. The amount will vary according to the baby’s age but as an example, most 4-month-olds will drink four to six ounces every three to four hours.

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If parent’s aren’t already supplementing their baby’s diet with formula, it might be something to consider starting; it’s good to have an ample supply of nutrition on hand for the caregiver and sometimes pumping alone can’t produce the volume needed. It may not fly with La Leche, but the most important consideration is that babies get fed.

When that fateful day comes, make the goodbye short and sweet, recommends Dr. Maypole. “Lingering goodbyes are more for the parent than the baby,” he says. Separation anxiety is often worse for parents than for kids. That’s because as long as their routines and schedules stay about the same, babies may not particularly notice when a parent leaves. That might feel weird, but it’s for the best to recognize it for the blessing that it is, kiss the kid, and head into the office.