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Daycare: When Your Baby Can Start and How to Prepare

A group of babies are indoors in a day care centre. They are sitting on the carpet and playing with toys.

Deciding when and where to start your baby at daycare is a big decision. These choices can affect you, your baby, your family, and your career. Your baby has been with you for nine months in the womb plus your entire maternity leave, and possibly even longer. So parting with them often comes with mixed emotions. Sadness at parting with them, feeling a sense of freedom and productivity during a kid-free day, relief of reuniting—these sentiments are normal. They will help you make the best daycare decision for your family.

Sometimes the motivation to find a daycare for your baby comes from feeling desperate for some alone time. Or perhaps you feel stretched too thin trying to keep up with your job full-time while littles constantly crawl at your feet. Is your patience or productivity suffering? Maybe the desire to start daycare for your baby stems from wanting the experience for your child. The socialization, the learning, and the activities at daycare are often more than one parent can do at home. Studies show superior psychosocial, language, motor, and cognitive development and even healthier weights among children in daycare.

No matter your reasoning for looking into your daycare options, handing your baby over and trusting someone else to care for your child can be incredibly difficult for some parents. Having the facts and options laid out before you can make the process and the decision-making a little easier.

Daycare: When Your Baby Can Start and How to Prepare

At What Age Can a Baby Start Daycare?

Many daycare centers start accepting infants as young as six weeks old. If you are required to return to work after a six-week maternity leave, you may not have any other option than to start your newborn in daycare at that time. However, if you are not required to go back to work or looking into daycare for other reasons, there are things to consider for delaying daycare or starting as soon as you can.

Delaying Starting Daycare

If possible, it may be better to wait a bit longer to start your baby in daycare. This gives your infant’s immature immune system a chance to develop. Studies show a rapid increase in colds at the start of daycare, then a relatively fast decline with continued daycare. Delaying these first colds can help prevent fevers and more serious infections and conditions in newborns. Children who start daycare earlier and spend more time in daycare are also more likely to develop respiratory tract disorders and allergies.

Starting Daycare Early

Conversely, if you start daycare early for your baby, they will get to know their daycare providers from such a young age that they may feel more comfortable with them. Separation anxiety typically begins sometime between six and nine months of age. If your baby learns the drop-off routine and is familiar with their caregivers before this milestone, the early transition to daycare may be more manageable. Another benefit to starting daycare at a young age is the correlation with advanced academic achievement even into high school.

When Should You Start Looking for a Daycare?

If you are thinking about enrolling your baby in daycare, it is time to start researching your local options. Certain daycare centers are so competitive and in demand in some areas that they are among the first to know of a woman’s pregnancy. This way, that baby has a spot in daycare when they are ready. Some daycares have waitlists months or even a year long. Other daycares, such as those affiliated with schools, only enroll new children at certain times of the year, so it is good to reserve a spot starting in the year that you will need care.

In short, you can start looking at daycares now! Learning about different types and touring some options will give you direction and help you narrow down what you are looking for. If a specific daycare you are interested in tells you that you are too early, at least you will have an idea of a better timeframe to reach back out to them.

Choosing a Daycare

These days, daycares are not “one size fits all.” There are many types and sizes of daycares for moms to choose from. Here’s a rundown of the kinds of daycares you can look into.

Home Daycare

Home-based daycare providers care for children in their own home or another residential setting. Lots of parents like the familial feel that home daycares provide. Home daycares can be good for families with multiple children of different ages because siblings are not separated in different classrooms. Home daycares may also offer more flexibility on hours and days of the week.

Typically home daycares have a very limited number of infants and toddlers. Licensing requirements vary by state, and they govern health and safety requirements. Licensed home daycares are inspected and audited regularly, but not all home daycares are licensed.

Daycare Centers

Daycare centers are larger settings in commercial buildings. They have a more extensive staff of care providers overseen by a director. Some parents feel reassured that there are many adults in the building. Children are usually separated into smaller classes by age group. Daycare centers typically have a school-like structure with many age-appropriate activities and equipment.

Many centers are licensed, but licensing requirements vary by state. Some programs such as faith-based daycares, summer camps, and daycares operated by schools may not require licensure. Licensed programs are monitored to ensure they follow specific regulations and health and safety requirements. You can look up any programs you are considering to determine if they are licensed.

Parent’s Day Out

Mom’s Day Out or Parent’s Day Out is a type of childcare usually located in a church or faith community. It offers daycare for limited hours, both shorter days and fewer days of the week. This may be a good fit for parents who work part-time, work from home, or have flexible hours. Many stay-at-home parents also use these programs to introduce daycare or school settings and get some things done around the house! Parent’s Day Out programs are not usually licensed, but many still reference state guidelines for health and safety.

Important Considerations for Choosing the Right Daycare

There are many considerations when choosing which daycare is the best fit for your family. It can be overwhelming to think about all the characteristics to prioritize when identifying the right one. Here is a list of some of the most important things to consider:

Daycare Facility Specifics

Other Important Factors to Consider

Financial Considerations

Childcare makes up the most significant portion of their budget for many families, often even more than housing, food, and sometimes even college tuition. There are many types of programs to help pay for daycare. Here are some common options:

Government Assistance

The federal government provides money to states to go towards childcare for low-income families so they can work or attend school. The government also offers Head Start daycare programs at no cost to low-income families. You may also be eligible for a tax credit for daycare if you meet certain requirements.

Employer Assistance

Some companies or universities/colleges offer onsite childcare. This is sometimes discounted for employees or students. Your employer may offer assistance to help pay for daycare, so be sure to consult your benefits consultant if applicable. You may also be able to set aside a certain number of pretax dollars from your paycheck to go towards your daycare bill.


Specific daycares may offer scholarships or tuition assistance. You may also be able to find local scholarship opportunities for daycare. Finally, some childcare centers offer sibling discounts if you enroll multiple children.

How to Prepare to Start Daycare

It takes time for any baby to learn a new routine and new people. Starting daycare is also an adjustment for you as you grow accustomed to being away from your baby more than you may ever have been. Your child may be resistant to naps or feeds when they start daycare. This may cause increased moodiness during the transition, even at home. Ultimately, children learn the difference between home and daycare and adapt to the different settings. Emotional drop-offs will get easier, naps and feedings will become more regular, and your baby may even get excited to see their friends at daycare.

Preparing Your Baby

No matter how prepared you and your baby are, there will always be an adjustment period. But getting things ready in advance can help ease the transition to starting daycare. Here are some tips on how to prepare your baby.

Preparing What to Bring

Each daycare differs in what they provide and what they expect the family to bring, but below is a list of some of the items you may need to bring on the first day or daily.

Managing Your Emotions About Daycare

You may feel a whole range of emotions when dropping off your baby at daycare. My little one has been in daycare for almost a year, and I still cry at drop-off sometimes. On other days I feel relief to have a bit of a break from her. Toddlers keep you busy! You are your baby’s home and whole world, so it is normal to feel sadness and possibly some guilt at drop-off. It is also normal to feel some excitement about returning to work or regaining some freedom during the day.

To prepare for all the feelings you may experience, one thing you can try is planning a special day with your baby before starting daycare. Do all the activities you love to do together, and try to cherish that time. Also, be candid with your child’s daycare and caregiver about your feelings. Share with them if you are feeling sad or nervous. They have been through this transition with many other families and may be able to help you cope or give suggestions. They also may have more compassion and share more updates or photos throughout the day.

All the preparation in the world cannot perfectly prepare you for the first day. When making the right decision for your family, try to take it one day at a time and allow yourself to feel the positive and negative feelings without guilt. The time you have with your baby becomes even more special when it seems more limited. You will always be your baby’s parent, no matter how many other caregivers they have. Eventually, you may grow to enjoy the collaboration with your baby’s daycare. Lean on friends (especially friends with kids in daycare!), family, and your partner for support during what can be an emotional transition. I promise it gets easier, and you will find your new normal.

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