Babies Starting Daycare

Parent Q&A

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  • How young is too young for daycare?

    (9 replies)

    Hi parents!

    I'm a first-time mom debating on when to put my son in daycare. While I want him to be as much social as possible, I'm also concerned about his development during the first year of his life... What is your experience with your kids? Would a nanny share be best for the first years? I appreciate any recommendations/ experienes you might have to share. 

    Many thanks!

    We enrolled our daughter at seven months. We wanted to wait longer but between being drained and having several months of work piled up we went for it and found a home-based daycare with four babies (incl ours) and seven kids 2-5. For our daughter it was beneficial to learn skills from kids a little bit older, and she seemed to develop a confidence and sense of independence that might not have happened at home or by just playing at the park and a few times a month with friends older kids. 

    We started our daughter at a wonderful in-home daycare full time at 6 months. And to ease her in, she started going 2x/week for a few weeks prior. She absolutely loves it. She loves the socializing, loves being around other babies and bigger kids. It's been a great decision for us and I'm convinced this has been a better option than having a nanny would have been. The only downside is that she's gotten a LOT of colds. Keeping her home from daycare when she's sick is really disruptive on us and I have friends with nannies who have been far less disrupted. We contemplated switching to a nanny because of this, but in the end feel the socialization piece for her is worth it.

    We enrolled our two kids in a full-time school-based Infant Care center when they were both 6 months old. My younger daughter was enrolled for about 3 months before Covid hit, stayed home for 6 months during the 2020 shutdowns and then went back on a part-time basis for a few more months before ramping back up to full-time. Compared to my older son who was enrolled in the center continuously, I think it took her a little longer to adjust socially (or maybe it was just being isolated at home for 6+ months!) but I didn't see any big differences in other areas of development (motor skills, etc.) She now loves her Preschool and has definitely "come out of her shell" more and is more independent and vocal. Another thing to keep in mind is whenever you decide to enroll in daycare (or PreK), your daughter will probably get sick off and on from the usual daycare germs so be prepared!

    I'll preface this by saying that my kid hasn't done either of these, because my spouse and I unexpectedly switched careers and ended up jettisoning our plans for daycare and then our plans for a nanny share so she could stay home.  But we looked into both options and felt that either could be really good, so these are the considerations we saw. 

    Lots of people send their kids to daycare quite young, and it's totally great.  But they don't NEED social interaction with other kids the first year or even more, especially not on the full time cadence of daycare.  IMO the advantages of a nanny share, if you can afford it, are considerable: much less disruption from illness (especially in the covid era), smaller and less overwhelming environment, much more flexibility in scheduling (typically), easier to tailor the schedule/activities/etc to your kid since it's a smaller group.  With a share, it's easier than with an individual nanny to pay a living wage, and you get some social interaction built in (and nannies can take the kids they're caring for to the park or whatever for other interaction.)

    But they can be somewhat less reliable -- if the nanny gets sick, or has other responsibilities (like school age kids), you have less backup than in a daycare setting where typically there's a floating.  The full burden of screening etc is on you, though you can also work with an agency. Either you or the share partner needs to provide space, which can be tough if you work from home. Also more expensive of course. 

    Mainly I wouldn't get too deep in your head about what's optimal for development.  There are major considerations in terms of your family's well-being and logistical needs -- think about those first, and then see if you can find options you're happy with in the care style you're looking for.  

    The other caveat to my advice is that we looked into all this before the staffing/daycare crisis of the last 6 months, and I don't know how much the general daycare crisis has changed things.  Staffing is increasingly challenging for daycares, lots of covid exposure closures, etc etc.  

    We put our son in daycare when he was 4 months old and they were wonderful. It's so scary leaving them when they were that young but the daycare was incredible and his caregivers were like our Parent advisors (since we had no idea what we were doing :)

    Our daughter started daycare at 10.5 months. Our original plan was to send her when I was done with my maternity leave at 4 months, but the covid situation and my partner and I working from home more often delayed things. We found a great home daycare with a small class size and love it. Our daughter is extremely social and thrives in that environment. Echoing what others have said, the colds are more prevalent. My daughter is sick about once a month. I imagine when she starts kindergarten she won't be sick as often as a child who was never in the daycare environment.

    I think daycare or a nanny share are both great options, and it depends on what works best for the parents.  My baby started daycare at 5.5 months and has been thriving there (she's almost 11 months now).  I would imagine she'd also be happy in a nanny share.  Here are the things that went into my thought process:

    - my husband and I are both working from home and have a small house; we wanted our baby out of the house during work hours

    - I didn't want to have to be responsible for nanny payroll taxes or coordinating COVID expectations, schedules, etc with another family - daycare is easier logistically for us

    - I found a daycare very close to our house so it's very convenient 

    The downside of daycare is that my daughter has cold symptoms more often than not!  The frequent colds don't seem to both her, but do impact our social life on the weekends - hard to have playdates with mom friends whose babies stay at home with them or are in a nanny share and are therefore not exposed to the same germs

    I have two kids (3 yo, 9 months). The first started in small in home daycare around 7 months. She started mid-August and it wasn't until January that she really enjoyed herself there. It was a really stressful time, but I stuck with it thinking the socialization would be best for her. Eventually she came around and did enjoy it and is still best friends with one of the girls that was with her. My younger daughter started at the same place around 5 months. We thought starting sooner would help with some of the trouble we had with my older one. She hated it, she was miserable, we did half days to help her adjust, she cried the whole time and after a little over a month got kicked out. I was so apprehensive about getting a nanny: how to find someone we like, share or solo, taxes / under or over the table, the disruption of having someone else in my house. My daughter started with a nanny share in January and I LOVE it. My daughter is so happy. They go to the park everyday for hours, our nanny says there are two other kids at the park she plays with regularly in addition to the kid in our share. I'm sure this will expand as she gets older. In our old daycare, the kids stopped going to the park after covid. We had a worst case scenario, but I'm really happy with how things ended up. I loved the idea of daycare, and it really didn't work for my kid and our nanny share so far has been great. I guess, if you find a spot at a daycare you love give it a try but don't be afraid to try something else if its not working. 

    First off I would say there is no right answer, obviously you have to do what works for you and your family!

    Mom of three here. My older sons started daycare (this was in San Francisco at the time) at ages 4 months and 3 months. The daycare itself was big (100 kids) but the infant classes had a ratio of one teacher: 3 babies and we really loved it. Throughout daycare/preschool the teachers did so many fun things with them (art projects, music, reading, field trips to the Ferry Building, etc) and they were stimulated every day. These two boys are now in 1st grade, and entering K at Head-Royce.

    For my younger baby (age 9 months) she has mostly been with a nanny. She will start daycare at age 1 at Rockridge Montessori. I look forward to getting her out of the house, with other babies etc. and having more stimulation for her throughout the day. I do feel like around age 1-1.5 these toddlers become so active and it is nice for them to be in an environment with other toddlers. 

    The obvious advantages of a nanny are more personalized attention, possibly a more flexible schedule for you. But if a nanny is sick then it is tough on the parents. I am in a situation where I really cannot call in sick to work so daycare was better for me logistically because it is more reliable in that sense. However, you do have to be prepared for the colds/illnesses that can come with daycare. That eventually does taper off and the kids have a robust immune system!

    Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Easing 4-month-old into daycare

Nov 2012

My 4-month-old son is starting full-time daycare soon, and I will be with him during his first week (4 days) to ease him into the process adjusting to his new environment and schedule. I would like advice, both general and specific, on how other parents have managed to spend their time both with and away from their children in this particular setting.

Any general advice on how I can allocate my time during his first week to best transition him into his new environment so that it's not a complete shock to him and he feels somewhat comfortable taken care of by someone other than his mommy? The daycare center is extremely flexible and helpful in terms of my physical presence there, so it's really up to me to figure out how to gradually (yet effectively) remove myself from him in his new environment.

My specific concern is regarding feeding. My son is exclusively on breast milk and is not keen on taking a bottle. I am afraid that, when he becomes hungry and sees me at daycare, I will have no choice but to offer him my breast, so as to not upset him. This, however, seems to undermine the efforts to ''best transition'' him because I would not want him to expect to find mommy's boobies when he is at daycare. Any advice on this conundrum? Thank you. anon

I would stick around no more than one day...and maybe just a half-hour on the subsequent days. If you are comfortable with your care provider and the nurturing they provide, then it's less confusing for baby if you just leave. He'll have to learn how to take a bottle, and he will pretty quickly (crossing fingers, of course!) if you're not there to nurse him when he's hungry. And once he's established with bottle feeding, maybe then you can stop by once a day (provided you work nearby) for nursing. Good luck!

Reconsider spending 4 whole days in daycare with your 4-month-old. It might help you to feel comfortable with the daycare, but doesn't do that much to transition your child -- If you're right there with him, from his point of view it's not much different than anyplace else that you go with him. Instead, leave him for a couple of hours the first day or two while you run errands or clean your house. Spend 30-60 minutes at drop-off time (and breastfeed before you depart), and stay as long as you want when you pick him up so you can spend time observing. Then starting the 2nd or 3rd day, increase to half-day without you. This gives the daycare provider some time to offer a bottle when you are not there with milk on tap, and if he does go on strike, he won't stay hungry for long. I remember that starting my baby in daycare was emotionally difficult for me, but my child (at age 5 months) was totally fine, especially since he was young enough not to have separation anxiety yet. Having a trusted, warm, attentive childcare provider with a ton of experience introduce the bottle while you are not there is a great way to go. This will probably not be their first time introducing a bottle. If you are present, your baby may have a greater resistance to the bottle, and it will be more wrenching for you.

Do you have any reason to believe that your son will need you to nearby for the whole week? Has he had a tough time with other people caring for him? My daughter was watched by a sitter when she was the same age as your son and then transitioned to daycare a little later. She adapted very easily to both the sitter and the daycare. My daughter is completely fine with other people taking care of her as long as I am not available. If I am available she only wants me to feed her, change her, hold her, etc. She cried when dropped off at daycare at the beginning but always stopped within 5 minutes of us leaving. Staying with her only prolonged her separation anxiety. And you are right about the nursing/bottle feeding. He most likely won't want a bottle if you are there. It might take him a little while to accept bottles but he won't starve himself. He will eat when he gets hungry enough. Hope that didn't come off the wrong way. I was very worried about my daughter taking bottles. She would not take them when I was home with her or near her. But when I finally went back to work she adjusted. She got hungry enough and decided that a bottle was suddenly not the worst thing in the world. Hope everything goes smoothly for you. anonymous

Concerned about the change in 5-month-old's routine

Nov 2011

I'll be working part-time starting in January, so my then 5- month old will be in family day care for two days (Mondays and Wednesdays). I'm concerned about the change in her daily routine. Any advice on making this a smooth transition for her (and me)? Thanks! Cindy

I just went back to work part time (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). I was concerned about how my 5 month old son would handle this change in his routine, but he seems to be taking it in stride. I've been leaving him at a family day care not far from where I work. The first day I left him there, he looked very dubious when I handed him to the day care provider, and even cried a little bit. However, the provider was not at all disturbed by this, and decided he might be cranky because he needed a nap (she was right -- he often takes a short nap at that time of day). At the end of the day, he seemed quite happy to see me but didn't look at all upset. Each day since then, he seems a little less concerned when I leave him in the morning, and he always seems just fine at the end of the day. Based on both my experience and what I've heard from others, I think it's pretty common for babies this age to adapt quite well to day care, since most 5-month olds haven't yet developed significant stranger anxiety or separation anxiety. I think the chances are good that your baby will have a smooth transition without your taking any special steps to make it so. -- Diane

My 5 month old also started daycare 3 days a week, about 3 months ago and it went quite smoothly. A couple weeks before he began in daycare, I started ''disappearing'' in the mornings for an hour or so and having my husband or mother feed my son as my husband was going to do the drop off in the mornings. That way my son was used to me not being his morning person and he got used to drinking milk and eating some cereal. (and my husband got used to doing this too!) I also started back to work half days for a few weeks, and so my son didn't have to stay at daycare for very long at first. In my experience, this was a good time to start daycare because my son didn't have separation anxiety and quickly accepted his new situation. I also have been allowing him to nurse more often at night. When I come home with him I try to spend some good time with him in the evening, and during my days with him. Good luck! I agonized so much over putting my son in daycare and in the end, it was much easier to do it than to think about it. Julie

Starting daycare at 3 months

I will be going back to work part time in July, when my daughter is three
months old, and I will need to find at least half day care for her. Has
anybody had some experience with starting day care this early? Mary Carol

I've just started my daughter in day care at St. John's infant Center. Cara is four months old, but St. John's takes babies as young as 3 months. Cara loves it there. She likes watching the older babies (e.g. the 6 and 7 month olds who can roll over and crawl) and gets lots of extra hugging from the staff. She usually comes home tired but happy, full of smiles. Her older sister went through the same baby room, onwards to the big kids area (for one and two year olds) and now, at almost 3, is about to graduate to preschool. I didn't want the girls in a big preschool with a few babies thrown in, because I was afraid they'd get kind of lost in the shuffle and demands of a herd of excited four-year-olds.

There are not many infant-only programs in CA because it is very expensive. (St. Johns is largely subsidized by the church in which the program is housed, which helps a lot.) The emphasis in CA for the past 20 years or so has been family-day-care ... small programs in homes with a mix of ages, including a couple babies. Many babies like that kind of setting too. The quality of family daycare depends a great deal upon the individual running that particular place. But in a good setting, I think babies enjoy being social and being around other children and adults. After all, in many times and cultures, they would have been around mom, grandma, auntie and a herd of siblings and cousins all day long.

Our son, Aaron, who is now almost 2, started at a family daycare at a little less than 3 months. He loves it. Our childcare provider, Robin Fetisoff, seems to generally prefer taking new kids when they are very little. One advantage to starting so young is that it seems that separation anxiety, at least associated with going to childcare, is reduced or absent entirely, as they are so familiar with the provider before those stages hit. Elizabeth I waited until my daughter was able to crawl until I placed her at daycare. I was told by many parents that children just don't get enough attention at daycare and so, I figured that my daughter would at least be able to crawl to the toys and amuse herself without needing constant attention. I also observed some of the younger babies get poked at or stepped on by older babies, and I sighed in relief that Rebecca was old enough to defend herself. (I'm sure that babies get prodded by other children no matter which daycare center they're in). Teachers are not always able to watch everyone closely, specially when there are many children around, someone's bound to get poked. Grace