Sending Your Baby to Daycare: How I Prepared & Coped

In Canada, we are so very fortunate that many of us have access to 12-18 month maternity leaves. This is unfortunately not available to everyone (you have to have worked 600 hrs of insurable employment within a period to qualify for maternity/parental leave benefits) – but I hope to see this expanded in the future. Everyone should be able to access a maternity leave with support.

But that’s not the point of this post today – what I wanted to talk about was returning to work & sending your child to daycare. I am sharing my experience, and some tips based on that about how to prepare for this change.

I honestly knew very little about daycare as a new parent

Really, I didn’t. Why? Because when I was growing up, I actually never had to go to a daycare. I was very lucky that my grandparents were both younger and that they actually took care of me most of the time. I had a babysitter, but that was about it. I never went to any kind of formal daycare centre or home daycare. What I knew about daycare from experience was therefore, minimal.

I had grown up in a situation again, that was very fortunate. I was lucky that although I didn’t attend daycare, I had neighbours close by with children my age so I still got a lot of socialization as a kid. I had a very ideal situation that I personally thrived in.

So, as a result, daycare kind of freaked me out. Simply because it was unfamiliar to me. It was never apart of my own, lived experience.

I knew that my child would have to go to daycare because I work full-time, my husband works full-time and our parents are for the most part, all still working full-time or live further away from us. I knew that my childhood situation sadly, could not be replicated for my child. At least not right now.

I also knew that lots of people I knew either worked in daycares, attended them as children, or sent their kids to one. So – I knew there were great ones out there from hearing their experiences. I was never against daycare, I honestly just didn’t know much about it so…

My first step was to learn as much as I could about the daycare options available and find what would work best for our family

When I went on maternity leave, I was working full-time M-F about 8:30-5pm. My husband started work much earlier, but sometimes ended earlier than me. It ends up – when you live through a pandemic, things with your jobs can change. Drastically.

By the time I returned to work, I was actually ‘returning’ to an entirely new job. My husband was too – after he was laid off as a result of the pandemic, he went through a period of change with jobs. So any “planning” we had done in terms of a daycare before became sort of a mess, because our jobs, hours, and flexibility all shifted quite a bit.

When I was pregnant, everyone told me to get on wait lists for daycare. I did start looking when I started my maternity leave (prior to Maggie being born) but I did not know what to look for. Everything seemed really expensive. For several months of my mat leave I contemplated staying home a few days and only working part-time to make ends meet.

I ended up posting on a Facebook group several times to see what kind of info I could get from other moms in my area. Recommendations for locations, etc. A few people messaged me with centre recommendations – all with wait lists and a price I wasn’t sure we could afford; and a few messaged me about home daycares – but when I said I was looking for January 2021 they told me to message them closer to that date.

I was lucky that one person did reply to me saying they had a home daycare spot, and after e-mailing back and forth I decided to pursue a introductory meeting to see if it was what I was looking for. I highly suggest doing a tour or introduction with any daycare – make sure it is what you’re looking for! This is harder of course, given the pandemic. I was lucky that when I went to look again (around mid-summer) things were a bit more relaxed.

I know a lot of people who recently put their children into daycare during the pandemic who couldn’t go for a tour. Some daycares do offer online ones, but it can be hard to leave your kid somewhere when you don’t know what it even looks like on the inside! It’s also nice to meet some of the staff too, so you can make sure you’re comfortable. None of this is over the top – this is your kid we’re talking about! And their care and well being. I think it’s normal to ask questions, want to see/know things, and be comfortable with the place they are going to be potentially several days of the week.

We went to our in-person meet & greet/tour of the daycare, and I was SO relieved. I loved our daycare provider and everything she stood for!

This is why I highly suggest a tour or anything you can get close to that for daycares. I know it’s hard right now. Don’t feel bad if the current worldwide situation limits your ability to be thorough – it’s happening to lots of people everywhere. Just do your research as best you can. If you can’t go – do online tours, look at photos and ask a ton of questions. Anything you’re concerned about such as sleep, food, and activities. Also how the daycare deals with issues is a good thing to ask about. You can also share any important pieces of information about your child during this time period – to see what type of problem solving can be done (for example, if you’re still breastfeeding and baby doesn’t take a bottle yet etc.).

The best input for me was from other parents who have or had their children at the daycare. I got a few references from my daycare provider and they were all exceptional. Word of mouth is also a powerful thing – if a friend has their kid at a daycare and they love it, it’s likely worth looking into.

Remember though that you need to find the daycare that works for you & your family. Especially your child. Don’t feel pressured to choose a daycare simply because a friend’s child goes there. Find the daycare that works for your child & your schedule, your financial situation, etc. I feel like you know when you’ve found the best option.

Once we had found and decided on our daycare, I registered Maggie for a future start date. Completed our paperwork. Everywhere will be a little different – we’re at a home daycare so it’s a bit of a different approach than a centre, but there should always be paperwork!! That’s for good legal & safety reasons. Other things you might want to consider are: whether or not the daycare is licensed – and if they aren’t, does the provider have good references, CPR/First Aid certification (infant CPR might be important too if you’re sending a younger baby), any other relevant certifications, experience and proof of experience or education, and so on.

Before she started daycare, we had to spruce up our schedule

We sort of had a schedule during maternity leave, because M would generally wake up around the same time everyday and we generally had bedtime around the same time by the time she started daycare (10.5 months). However, our wake up time was not necessarily consistent so it needed some figuring out.

I used Google Maps to map out our daycare route – I was lucky enough that by the time I knew M would be starting daycare, I had discovered I’d also be starting a new job and working from home, so my daycare route got a lot easier. And the amount of things I needed to do before driving her in the morning was lessened significantly, since I could just throw on sweats to drive her and come home to eat and change if needed. Anyways – the mapping helped me to determine our wake up time, which we did adjust the first week or so once I got an actual idea of how much time it takes to get a 10.5 month old ready in the morning (we’ve perfected this now at 16 months!).

I suggest trying to prepare yourself for any major scheduling changes at least a few days in advance. It really does help – for both you and baby.

We also did a few trial days at daycare before M started up full time. Not everyone will get the luxury or flexibility to do this, but if you can and you’re willing – it’s a nice way to ease into it. Some centres suggest this as well for a week or two prior to starting full time care.

We did a few half days in the months leading up to her starting – because our daycare had space for her already and I did a few shifts here and there for flu season clinics. In the week before she started full time, I took her for about half the week, morning then half day, then full day. She started the following Monday for a full day and everything went very smoothly.

I actually never had any challenges with dropping her off or separation anxiety, even with the first day she went! We just got very lucky I think – Maggie is a pretty easy going baby and at the time, basically had no separation anxiety which was surprising given the circumstances she grew up in! I think the meet and greet was really helpful to get Maggie sort of used to the daycare.. but it could have totally just been luck too.

I think anything you can do to help support your child through the upcoming change is helpful. Whether that’s adjusting your schedule slowly or trialling the daycare for a few days/doing shorter days leading up to full time care. Whatever works. If you are your child’s main caregiver, it can be helpful to start spending a bit less time with them every so often so they get used to alternative caregivers. I did this when I had a dentist or doctors appointment for example – had a family member watch Maggie even if it was just for an hour or so. You will both appreciate the slow adjustment period – if you have the luxury of having access to that! If not, there are other ways your daycare can help to support your child through the new scenario. Don’t be afraid to talk to your daycare provider or centre about your transition related to concerns!

Other Tips for Daycare:

  • Try to be consistent with schedules on the weekends, especially in the early days – I sent Maggie to daycare and after a week she came back with a way more structured nap schedule. And I wanted to keep it that way so we emulated the schedule she had at daycare at home on the weekends – for meals and nap times. We still do most of the time, and it’s very helpful and nice for her to have some consistency. I find it helps with her night time sleep, but also her daytime naps when she is at daycare during the week!
  • Have a daycare bag you bring back and forth but also bring some more ‘permanent’ items to daycare (if daycare allows) – for example, I keep diapers/wipes and now also Maggie’s non-breast milk stocked at daycare. When she was still breastfeeding in the day, I would send frozen milk each morning. We have a bag we take with us to daycare with stuff she needs to bring home – like her sound machine. I’d leave an extra pair of clothes with daycare, plus in the winter we left things like gloves and hats as well. Ask your daycare or daycare provider what might be needed!
  • Have an emergency contact list – this will probably be required during your registration paperwork, but make sure whoever is on your list knows they’re on it too!! We have our emergency contacts on Maggie’s daycare app (see below)

One thing that helped me through the transition? The daycare photo app!

Many daycares now have something like this – either an app or a website, so you can check in on your kiddo. This was SO comforting to me in the early days and it still is now. I check the app several times a day when I get alerts that Maggie has new photos, or has gone down for a nap.

Our app allows my husband and I to both be registered and see Maggie’s updates, which is nice for both of us. Definitely ask your daycare about whether they have options like these available – it can be hard for your baby to transition, but it can also be hard for the parents especially after 12-18 months home together!

One other thing I did when preparing for daycare/back to work was start pumping (which I actually as not doing with an electric pump prior, because I was home all the time with the baby). You can read about that here.

I hope that this maybe helps to comfort a parent who might be sending their child to daycare in the near future. I spent months thinking about daycare & worrying about Maggie’s first day and how it would go. I’m glad I took the time to prepare her as best as I could, because it really did seem to help. In the end though – even if your child is a bit thrown off, remember that it’s normal for them to feel that way. Just like it’s normal for you to feel a bit thrown off when you return to work! Don’t be afraid to reach out to your daycare/daycare provider for help & advice; and to those you lean on for emotional support. Good luck!

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