When Should Baby Start Day Care

Sending your baby to daycare is a major step as a parent. For some, the choice to attend day care is a given. For others, day care may be a decision reached due to a variety of factors. Regardless, finding a daycare that works for you and your family is important. Be sure to inform yourself on all of the local options available to determine which daycare you feel most comfortable bringing your child to. An equally considerable choice is deciding when your baby should start day care.

Consider your family’s schedule. There is no blanket answer to when a baby should begin daycare, because there is no one family routine. Take a moment and look at the routine and rhythms of your own home. What is your work schedule like, and how would childcare overlap with work? If you or your partner is a stay at home parent, is there a period of time during the day when your baby could attend daycare? Do you need full time care, or a supplement? If both partners are working full time, daycare will likely begin earlier for baby. If there is flexibility in the family schedule, then you may choose to ease into daycare, waiting until you feel more ready.

Choose the best daycare for your baby. There are many factors to consider when searching for a daycare, and be sure you understand the style of the care center you eventually choose. Some daycares have a busy atmosphere with lots of stimulation, music, and activity. This can be ideal for an active baby, always on the go. But it might overwhelm a more timid child. Other daycares follow a specific education style, like Waldorf or Reggio Emilia, but geared toward infants. These can be very calm places, but also might be more restrictive in their rules and philosophies. For example, some centers with an educational philosophy might not play music as ambient noise or implement restrictions on certain types of foods. You may choose a care that takes place in a daycare center. These usually offer care for your child in large, classroom-like groups. One pro of a daycare center is that they usually have a more sizable staff, which means your baby will have time interacting with a variety of adults. In-home daycares are also a choice. These tend to be smaller operations, and their legal requirements vary by state. For a child who loves to be active and see new faces, a daycare center might be better suited. In-home day care might be more appropriate for a shy child who thrives in very small groups.

Be mindful of your baby’s personality. Just like some adults prefer extra social time, a quiet space for downtime, or adventurous activities, babies are all different, too. Think of your baby’s personality when you begin to consider daycare, and the frequency of time spent there: does your baby adapt well to new people? Does he adjust easily to new environments? Is she overwhelmed by busyness around her? Does he like to be a part of everything, or does he tend to hold back and observe? The answers to these questions will inform you when you think about when, and where, your baby should attend daycare.

There is no one correct time to begin daycare. The best time to begin daycare is when it’s right for you and your baby. Young children will adjust to their care environment in different ways, and there will be a transition period no matter what. Reflect on what you and your family need in terms of childcare. Think about how your baby might thrive in a daycare environment if she is showing signs of social readiness. Some babies need more in terms of social interaction and stimulation, and they could be ready for low-stakes daycare earlier. If you have the option, you can also do a “slow start” by sending your baby to daycare just one or two mornings a week and gauging how the transition is working.