Dear Addie: I’m going back to work next week after spending 12 weeks at home with my first baby, who will go to daycare. I’m nervous to say the least. What should I expect, and what other advice can you offer that will help me prepare for it? —Amy
Dear Amy: Congrats on your new baby! And I hope your first 12 weeks at home with your bundle of joy were snuggly and sweet! It’s normal to be nervous about your baby starting daycare, but you will be a-okay.
If you love your job, going back to work can be both invigorating and exhausting all at once. If your job is “just a job,” I will forewarn you that you may struggle with this transition a little bit more and perhaps feel resentful that your baby is being cared for by someone else when it feels like you’re just punching the timeclock. Regardless of whether you love your job or hate it, though, leaving your baby at daycare for the first time (and likely for the first few weeks) can be brutal on the heartstrings. I remember crying all the way to work on my first day back … all three times. Looking in the mirror and seeing an empty carseat just felt … wrong and sad. It was bittersweet indeed. And there will most likely come a time when you pause and truly weigh the pros and cons of your situation and question whether you’re doing what you should be doing … working versus staying at home, daycare versus nanny, working full-time versus part-time. But such is the nature of parenthood: it continually presents moments to stop and re-calibrate in an effort to make sure you’re on the correct path for your family’s overall happiness and well-being.
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Those are just a few thoughts on the emotional side of starting daycare. As far as preparing logistically for the daycare experience, here are some things that I learned in my own experience. Hopefully it will help you and your baby enjoy a smoother transition:
Make a diaper bag checklist, and pack the bag the night before. These two steps may sound trivial, but I promise they will help make your busy mornings less nuts. You likely still have baby brain resulting from sleep deprivation and hormonal levels that haven’t yet returned to normal. If you’re rushing around in the morning trying to feed and dress the baby, get yourself fed and dressed and get out the door on time, packing the diaper bag will be a rushed affair and you’ll likely leave out something crucial like say, diapers? Or formula/breastmilk? Creating a checklist and packing the bag the night before when you’re not rushed will result in fewer cracks for things to fall through the next morning.
Your baby will catch her first cold, and that’s okay! Baby will likely get her first cold and/or fever during the first few weeks or months at daycare, so expect it. It’s sort of inevitable with so many different little people congregating in one place, all with brand-new immune systems. And while seeing your sweet muffin feeling under the weather is a real killjoy, it’s just part of it. A runny or crusty nose is sort of a daycare staple, especially during the winter months. The upside? With every cold and fever, your baby is building up a stronger immune system that will serve her well when she goes off to kindergarten.
Daycare is expensive. I’m sure you’re already well aware of this fact since you’re already signed up. At one point, my monthly daycare bill was only about $50 less than my monthly mortgage payment. But one thing many parents are shocked to learn is that you’ll pay for daycare even when you don’t use it or when the center is closed during holiday breaks, etc. It stinks, yes, to feel like your paying for something you’re not using, but ultimately, you’re paying to secure a spot at the center. And as most parents who have endured weeks and months on daycare waiting lists can attest, a spot secured at the daycare of your choosing is a hot commodity that is worth its weight in gold.
Good luck with the transition, and remember that nothing has to be permanent. If you find that the daycare experience isn’t what you’d hoped or that it’s not the right choice for your child, there are always, always other alternatives. You just have to look a little deeper and trust your judgment.
Dear Addie is a wife and mom of three who has done her fair share of diaper changing, morning snuggling, boo-boo kissing, cold nursing, lullaby singing, baby rocking, field trip chaperoning and sideline cheering. She believes that there is no degree required to be a parenting “expert.” You just have to roll up your sleeves, dig in, ask the questions, get the answers, and give it your best shot. Oh, and have a whole lot of love and patience on-hand!
Have parenting questions? Fire away! Send them to [email protected].