At What Age Can a Baby Start Daycare?

Having fun at daycare

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When to start your child in daycare is a personal decision and may depend on many factors, including the length of your parental leave; your partner's ability to take leave; your financial responsibilities; and whether you have other available childcare options, such as relatives or in-home care.

But most experts agree that the longer you can wait, the better. This allows time to establish a secure attachment, for the umbilical cord to fully heal, to figure out feeding and sleep patterns, and for both parents and baby to adjust to all the newborn newness.

Since many working parents have only a six-week leave and their families rely on their income, waiting until the baby is older is not always an option. Most daycare centers will not take babies under 6 weeks of age, and many facilities are not equipped to handle the special needs of infants born prematurely or with special medical concerns.​

When to Start Looking for Daycare Providers

It's best to start looking for daycare providers during pregnancy. Many high-quality childcare centers fill up quickly and have waiting lists. If you know that you will need to go back to work within a certain period of time, start scouting out daycares early. This way, you can deal with any childcare problems before you are also taking care of a newborn, recovering from birth, and dealing with the emotions of returning to work.

What to Look For in a Daycare Provider

Be sure to ask a lot of questions about whether the daycare is licensed, the staff's qualifications, the ratio of babies-to-care providers, and the structure of the day. Babies also need a clean and safe environment as they start to explore the world around them. 

Babies thrive in situations where they have a lot of one-on-one attention from a single caregiver, so family daycare can be ideal at this stage. There are a small number of babies per caregiver, and the caregiver can respond to babies' needs quickly. 

The ratio recommended by the Child Development Council is one adult to four babies, birth to 18 months, in a group of no more than eight babies. (This applies to any setting, whether home-based or not.)

Establishing attachment and trust to caregivers is very important for babies 18 months and younger. Continuity of care is the most important aspect at this stage. Babies need time to develop an attachment to and trust in their carer.

Infants can thrive in childcare as long as they enjoy plenty of attention, affection, playful interaction with caregivers and rich language experiences. A quality caregiver will be sensitive to a baby's needs, feel comfortable expressing affection towards babies, and understand child development stages.

A study published in 2006 by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported that childcare doesn’t threaten the bond between infants and their mothers, as long as a baby is getting sensitive, positive care at home.

Other Childcare Options

Alternatives to daycare include hiring a nanny or professional caregiver or taking your infant to work, at least until your baby is older. Look at the pros and cons of various childcare options, such as cost, flexibility, attention to your baby, and other factors that may be important to you.

A Word From Verywell

The first few days and weeks after your baby starts daycare may be very difficult. You may feel worried, scared, or jealous. All these feelings are normal and as you become more comfortable with the childcare provider and see that your baby is cared for, you should begin to feel better about the decision.

However, if you have a bad feeling, trust yourself. You are not married to any childcare situation. Do what is best for you and your family. 

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  2. Child Development Council. 10 components of high quality child care for infants and toddlers. Updated 2020.

  3. Hong YR, Park JS. Impact of attachment, temperament and parenting on human developmentKorean J Pediatr. 2012;55(12):449‐454. doi:10.3345/kjp.2012.55.12.449

  4. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Study of early child care and youth development. Updated 2006.