When Babies Can Start Daycare and What to Look for

Having fun at daycare

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Most centers offering infant daycare accept babies who are 6 weeks of age or older. Along with considering when to begin daycare for your child, it's important to learn about the different options and the pros and cons of each.

There are certain things to look for when interviewing daycare candidates, and you may want to begin the interview process before your baby is even born to secure a prime daycare spot.

When Babies Can Start Daycare

When to start your child in daycare is a personal decision that may depend on many factors, including:

  • The length of your parental leave
  • Your partner's ability to take leave
  • Your financial responsibilities
  • Whether you have other childcare options, such as family members

Although infants can start daycare at 6 weeks, many experts agree that the longer you can wait, the better. This allows time for establishment of a secure attachment with your child, complete healing of the umbilical cord, figuring out feeding and sleep patterns, and adjusting to a new life together.

Since many working parents have unpaid leave and their families rely on their income, waiting until the baby is older is not always an option.

Many 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.

However, there are other ways to ensure that these newborns receive excellent care while you're at work.​ In-home care providers, family members, and nannies or au pairs are all options to consider.

Types of Infant Daycare to Consider

You have several choices when it comes to daycare for your infant. Although centers, which provide care to groups of children, often do not accept babies younger than 6 weeks, other types of daycare providers may be willing to accept them at an earlier age.

Childcare Centers

Childcare centers offer care and supervision at their facility for groups of infants and children, who are often divided up by age.

Benefits of childcare centers:

  • The center does not close if a teacher or assistant is sick or has an emergency.
  • They must meet state licensing requirements for cleanliness and safety.
  • Your child will interact with a variety of adults and other children, which helps them with social development.
  • Your child will get used to a structured routine with everything happening at a set time during the day.

Childcare centers are the most formalized childcare option, in that they usually have fixed drop-off and pick-up times, rules about whether sick children can be brought to daycare, and extra fees for certain services. Also, some centers only provide full-time care.

Family Childcare Homes

Also known as in-home daycare, this type of setting is similar to a childcare center in that your baby will be in a group setting. However, they will be cared for in the provider's home and may be in a less-structured environment than a childcare center.

You may like this arrangement, as having a bit less structure can be more home-like than the set schedule usually found in childcare centers.

Advantages of in-home care:

  • Tend to be less expensive than childcare centers
  • Must meet state requirements (if the state has them), although they are different than those for childcare centers
  • Home-like environment where your baby receives attention from caring adults and sees children of different ages
  • May be more flexible with your schedule, allowing you to drop off or pick up at varied times
  • Some in-home providers offer part-time care
  • May take infants younger than 6 weeks old

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

Nannies

Nannies care for your infant in your home. They can either live with you (where they are often referred to as au pairs), or come in on a daily or as-needed basis. A nanny can offer your child more one-on-one attention and individualized activities based on your preferences.

However, hiring a nanny is often the most expensive way to arrange care for your infant, because you are paying more for your child to have individualized attention.

A smart way to cut the cost in half is to do a nanny share, in which you and another parent hire a nanny to care for both of your children in one of your homes. You still get attentive care for your infant, but with less of a dent in your bank account.

Benefits to hiring a nanny:

  • Greater flexibility with scheduling
  • More control over the kind of care your child receives
  • Individualized attention for your baby
  • Greater consistency and continuity of care
  • Convenience for you and your child

One thing to consider when hiring a nanny is that if they get sick or have car trouble, you may have to change your schedule or arrange for other childcare arrangements at the last minute.

Nannies generally do not have to meet any requirements for education or health certifications. If it's important to you that your nanny knows infant CPR or has other qualifications, verifying this (and checking their references) will be up to you.

Many parents who work from home choose to have their infants cared for by a nanny so that their baby can be close by all day. With more home-based jobs available than ever before, nannies are becoming increasingly popular.

When to Start a Daycare Search

It's best to start looking for daycare providers during pregnancy. Childcare centers need the longest lead time, as they must follow strict limits on the number of infants they can accept at any given time. 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 number of weeks, begin scouting out daycare options early. This way, you can focus on arranging childcare before you are also taking care of a newborn, recovering from birth, and getting ready for your return to work.

What to Look for in Infant Daycare

Be sure to ask about the following when visiting an infant daycare center:

  • The staff's qualifications
  • The ratio of infants to care providers
  • The structure of the day
  • The center's licensing qualifications

Babies also need a clean and safe environment as they start to explore the world around them. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides links to credentialing agencies for parents seeking quality daycare for their infants.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends a ratio of one adult to four babies, in a group of no more than eight babies.

Establishing an attachment with 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 the person who is caring for them.

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.

Parents may be concerned about negative effects on their children due to being placed in daycare at a young age. However, a study published in 2017 found that among young children in early childcare centers, those given high levels of emotional and behavioral support showed increased social competence a year later.

This positive effect was seen regardless of the number of days per week the children went to daycare.

A Word From Verywell

The first few days and weeks after your baby starts daycare may be 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 well cared for, you should begin to feel better about the decision.

However, if you have any misgivings, trust your instincts. You are not permanently committed to any childcare situation, and it's important to what is best for you and your family. 

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Article Sources
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