Waiting Lists for Day Cares that take Infants?

I just found out I am pregnant. I'm due at the end of February 2019.  I'll have 6 months maternity leave, but after that, I'll need a daycare for my baby.  What is the average waitlist time for infant day care? I'm wondering if it is really necessary to go on wait lists now! For context, my husband and I are currently living in DC, but moving at the end of August to Berkeley.  Any advice would be much appreciated!

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My experience is that it is difficult to get infant day care spots in Berkeley. Especially at daycares that are not in-home day cares. With kid #3 I learned my lesson and put her on a list somewhere when I was 3 months pregnant to start when she was 6 months old. We weren't even the first people on the list. While I am sure you could find a spot somewhere, if you have a particular place you are interested in or location limitation (e.g. need a place near BART), then I would consider getting on lists now. There are some places that take infants and then preschool afterwards. So, you would only need to apply once. Try looking at the Model School if you're more into Montessori-style or the Aquatic Park School if you're more into Reggio-style. 

If you’re looking at daycare centers (as opposed to home-based), my experience in the Berkeley/Albany area is about a year waitlist for infant spots. Centers that take infants are limited (private message me for a list I went through), and each one usually only takes a few infants due to the required staff:child ratio for the littlest ones. I wish I’d started the process earlier so good you’re thinking of it now! Keep in mind most have a fee ($50-$100) to be on the waitlist. I don’t know much about the smaller home-based options but there are a ton - see BPN’s list. 


Berkeley is not as crazy as DC (or SF for that matter), but it’s good to get on waitlist proactively.  I just had a baby in April and started looking for care in October/ November starting last December through February. That seemed plenty early for the places I went. I did not check out UC Berkeley daycare because it wasn’t convenient for me and I had an expectation that it would be hard to get into as a non faculty or staff member. That would be the one I’d try for now if you have an interest. You can safely wait until you arrive and settle a bit for most of them based on the timeline you’re describing.  Send me a message if you’d like more info. I can share my daycare search experience. 

Well first, congratulations!

You will probably get a lot of conflicting information on this one, but I'll just give a little advice based on my recent experience trying to find daycare for my now 2 month old. The typical advice that people gave us was to get on an infant care list as soon as you find out you are pregnant, especially if there is a particular daycare that you want.  However, this is often impractical, especially from a distance.  Our baby was born in April, and we started sending out emails and calling places in January, about starting daycare in August (so about 4 months before she was born, 8 months before daycare). We got zero replies.

We then decided to go the Nanny share route and stopped looking at daycares. However, a week after our baby was born, we changed our minds again and decided that the Nanny share route was a bit too expensive, and frantically tried to find daycares again.  At this point we thought that we really screwed up, because we contacted tons of daycares, and most of them either did not reply, or replied saying that they were waitlisted until spring 2019.

It wasn't until she was about 1 month old (3 months before daycare to start), that we started getting positive replies.  At this point, daycares had new openings because an infant's parents would notify the daycare about a move, or a 2 year old would transition to a preschool or something. It seemed like most of the daycares that did not respond previously simply did not know when there would be an opening, and they wouldn't start a waitlist unless they knew there would be an empty spot soon.

So, in a nutshell, if you can get on a waitlist, great! But... if your experience is anything like ours you might be filled with stress until the last minute, when suddenly you have multiple options.  

It might depend on the daycare. I think the bigger standalone daycare centers have official waitlists, and you can try and get on them ASAP. You might have to pay a fee to be on the list. Our daycare is a part of a preschool, and we had to pay an enrollment fee (even if there wasn't a spot for our son, which there was, thankfully). The smaller, in-home daycares often don't have waitlists, and just post openings when they have them. https://bananasbunch.org and BPN are both great resources for finding local daycares.

For what it's worth, we tried calling around to a bunch of in-home daycares when I was still pregnant, and we had a hard time even getting them to call us back. I don't necessarily fault the daycares for this, their time is limited and there's a lot of demand. We ultimately decided to go with a nanny share option for when I went back to work. It was a lot easier to find a share (we found it here on BPN), and the rates can be similar to some daycares. Then, after about 5 months in the share, we started poking around in the daycare search again, and got lucky and got a spot. Good luck in your search!

It totally depends. Centers will typically require more lead time, in-home day care typically less. What I did for my searches was basically as soon as I knew there was a need & when, I narrowed down a list of good options based on location, hours and reviews if I could find them. (Check out Bananas https://bananasbunch.org/) I then simply called those and said when I was looking for & asked when they suggested I call back to get on a list, or more seriously engage with them. You are likely way too early for most places, but they may tell you to call back 4/6 months or a year ahead of time to at least check in & start to think about touring etc. Plus, you never know - maybe your ideal place really does have a crazy long list & wants to hear from you now. Doesn't hurt to find out. 

That being said, do you know exactly where in Berkeley you will be living? If not, you may want to wait until you figure that out and can narrow things down more. You don't want to be driving all over the place twice a day, & Berkeley is fairly large. It will likely not hurt to wait until you are settled here to start this whole process. 

Thanks, all for your advice! I really appreciate it.