Finding the best childcare in your town can take a little legwork. If you live in a small community, you may have limited options. However, if your home is in a large metropolitan area, you may find that the childcare search is just as difficult, as many of the better centers may be full or have waiting lists. This is why it’s important to start the search for infant daycare early. Many experts suggest you start looking about two months before you plan to go back to work.
If you have a fairly set return-to-work date, it may make sense for you to begin your search for a daycare for infants while you’re still pregnant.
Depending on the length of your maternity leave, you may need to start looking for daycare while your baby is quite small, which weather and logistics can make challenging. If you have a fairly set return-to-work date, it may make sense for you to begin your search while you’re still pregnant.
A well-run daycare can offer a lot to your little one. Staff certified in infant development and early childhood education create programs designed for each stage of your baby’s mental and physical development and can help them hit milestones consistently. Verifiable training should be one of the first items on your daycare checklist for your infant.
Many professional daycare centers offer “continuous care” — that is, they take children from 4–6 months through pre-K age. With continuous care, your child can be in a familiar daycare space with teachers who have watched them grow for many years.
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If you know that you’ll have to work full-time, infant daycare tends to be cheaper than hiring a nanny. Plus, with a daycare center, if your child’s teacher is sick, there’s typically a substitute, so you don’t have to look for back-up childcare. Daycare centers tend to be fairly reliable, with flexible hours and part-time daycare for infants.
However, there are some downsides to daycare. Although daycare costs are less than hiring a private nanny, they can still be quite expensive, especially for infant care. If you’re in a two-income household, it may be less expensive to delay putting your baby in daycare until they’re a little older. Finally, if you’re breastfeeding, making time to pump at work is sometimes a challenge, and you may not be able to breastfeed as long as you’d planned.
Another thing to consider is that your child may be exposed to illness more often in daycare. Although licensed daycares typically require immunization records before allowing children to attend, they may still be exposed to colds, flu, stomach bugs, ear infections, and even head lice. Daycares don’t allow children to come if they are running a fever, but your baby still may be exposed to more illness than you’d like.
While an infant may not be developed enough to understand the difference between a daycare center and their home, they do understand the difference between a daycare provider and their mother. You can prepare your little one in advance by taking them on a tour of their new daycare, introducing them to the staff, and allowing staff members to hold them while you’re close by. If it’s allowed, consider letting your infant spend an hour or so playing and getting to know the new space and people with you close by for reassurance.
You may also ask for a copy of the typical schedule of your infant’s classes, including a list of daycare activities for infants. Many daycare centers have a set routine that includes when the babies eat, nap, and play. Consider adapting your baby’s home schedule to be close to that of the daycare.
You can prepare your little one in advance by taking them on a tour of their new daycare, introducing them to the staff, and allowing staff members to hold them while you’re close by.
On the first day, arrive early enough to give your baby time to acclimate. Pack a comfort item, such as a blanket or a stuffed toy, that smells like you and like home. This may make nap time easier. Be prepared for a long goodbye until your baby learns that they’re cared for and safe at the daycare.
If you’ve done your homework, interviewed the childcare providers, and gotten to know the routine of the daycare center, then saying goodbye that first day may be pretty smooth. If it feels rough for you or the baby, it may be helpful to think about how excited you’ll be to see each other at the end of the day!
Caring for infants in a group setting is very different from caring for older, more independent children. Experts recommend a close watch on safety, for instance, as well as staff engagement.
First, inspect the premises to make sure they’re safe, especially during naptime. Babies should be put in see-through cribs, individually, without bumpers. A daycare worker should be able to see your baby at all times, even during naptime. Many daycare centers have a teacher sit in the infant sleep room during naps, to monitor for safety and provide reassurance for fussy sleepers.
Experts recommend a close watch on safety, for instance, as well as staff engagement.
Your daycare center should try to follow your baby’s routine as much as possible, especially feeding and nap schedules. While many centers have fairly steady schedules, make sure that if your baby is communicating their need for an early nap or meal, the teachers will accommodate your baby’s needs.
Every room that your baby will be in should be completely childproofed, from outlet covers to rounded edges on furniture to age-appropriate toys. Ask about cleanliness practices and what products the center uses to clean toys. The daycare center itself should be clean and tidy. Although little ones may leave toys scattered around, the floors should be clean and not sticky; the bathrooms and changing areas should be visibly clean, and the workers should feel comfortable walking you through their clean-up routines.
Watching the faces of the kids as they interact with their teachers should tell you a lot about how invested the daycare workers are in their work.
Finally, take a look at the interactions between the children and teachers. Are the teachers actively playing with the kids? Or are they all to one side, talking amongst themselves? Watching the faces of the kids as they interact with their teachers should tell you a lot about how invested the daycare workers are in their work.
Daycare providers aren’t all created equal. Knowing what to ask can help you choose the best option for your child.
One of the first things to ask about is the center’s licensing and accreditation. All daycare centers should be licensed to operate; however, accredited daycares have a higher standard of operations for their workers, including early childhood education certifications, to ensure that they’re professionally trained to care for your child.
Other questions to ask include the ratio of teachers to children. The ratio should be very low for children under 1, typically 1:6. As children grow older, the ratio can range up to 1:10 or 1:12.
Things like sensory activities for infants in daycare, expression and sound mimicry, and gross and fine motor skill activities are all essential for your baby’s development.
It will also be useful to ask about the center’s inclement weather policy, their adherence to the local school schedule (some daycares close when nearby schools have the day off), and whether they close for bank or federal holidays. Knowing ahead of time when you won’t have childcare can better help you plan or arrange to take the day off yourself.
Ask about their illness policies (including fever and vomiting) and when they will require you to pick up your child. For example, many schools require that children haven’t vomited or had a fever for 24 hours before returning.
You can also ask about how you’ll get daily updates about your child’s experience. Some daycare centers will have a daily “report card” for parents, while others will have the daycare worker briefly recap one-on-one when parents pick their children up.
Other things to inquire about are the types of teaching and instructive play that the facility offers. Things like sensory activities for infants in daycare, expression and sound mimicry, and gross and fine motor skill activities are all essential for your baby’s development.
Childcare fees can vary widely. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), the annual average cost per year for infant care in center-based daycare is $11,666 — nearly $1,000 per month. However, prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year, depending on location. Some facilities tack on linen, food, or diaper fees or costs of continuing education and training for the staff, while others roll that into their monthly fee.
There are many things to consider about daycare for your infant, from the safety of the facility to staff engagement to cost. Giving yourself enough time to inspect and interview to find the right facility with our recommendations in mind can make the process easier.