Introduction to Starting My Baby in a Childcare Centre
There are many things to consider when you make a decision to start sending your baby to a childcare centre. It can be a difficult transition for some but here are my top 5 things every parent should consider before they enrol their baby in a childcare centre.
- Breastfeeding vs Bottle Feeding
- Sleep routines
- Sicknesses and Incidents
- Play Time
- Separation Time
Breastfeeding vs. Bottle Feeding
A decision of whether you decide your baby will be breastfeeding or formula fed when they begin in a childcare centre is a personal choice and childcare centres have an obligation to be supportive of breastfeeding mothers, usually providing a private place where you can breastfeed your child within the service or express milk. You can find useful information from the Australian Breastfeeding Association regarding breastfeeding and childcare centres. If you decide that you want your baby to continue to have breast milk while attending the childcare centre, and you will not be available on a regular basis to come into the childcare centre to breastfeed your baby, you will need to ensure that your baby is comfortable enough taking breast milk from a bottle, fed to them by other adults. If you decide you wish to continue breastfeeding your baby yourself, from the breast, be mindful that your baby will become used to this and this may make the transition to the childcare centre more difficult for yourself if you need to return to work and cannot visit the childcare centre on a regular basis to feed your baby.
If your baby is comfortable taking breast milk from a bottle, fed to them by other adults, this will give you as the mother more free time and may make the transition to the childcare centre much easier for yourself and your baby. It may be a good idea to express milk from time to time, not so much so as to increase your supply, but just enough so that this can be bottled and fed to your baby by dad, grandparents, friends or any other adults that are around your baby at home who you trust.
As a Childcare Centre Director, I have met with many new mothers who wish to enrol their baby in our childcare centre and wish for their baby to continue on breast milk. In a lot of cases, they want their baby to begin attending our childcare centre immediately, yet their baby has never taken breast milk from a bottle, only from the breast and the mother has to return to work, having never considered how difficult this transition may be for their baby who has never been fed from a bottle before.
This transition to begin at a childcare centre can be made much smoother if this is a major consideration in the months leading up to enrolling your baby. If the decision is that your baby will continue to take breast milk, but from a bottle rather than from the breast, if you cannot attend the childcare centre regularly to feed, you will just need to practice this with your baby and with other adults feeding the bottle to your baby too.
Expressed breast milk provided to the childcare centre will need to be stored and heated safely. There are guidelines for the correct storage of breast milk that can be found here at healthykids.nsw.gov.au
For babies that are formula fed, usually parents will provide a tin of the formula they use as well as bottles from home and the childcare centre will probably make the formula fresh each time, heating it safely.
Establishing a sleep routine can make it much easier when starting your baby in a childcare centre but me mindful that childcare centres are required to have policies and procedures in place to ensure all children, particularly infants are sleeping safely. ACECQA clearly explains why childcare centres are required to have these policies and procedures in place.
In the past, I have had many new families ask me, when enrolling their baby in our childcare centre, if we could please: rock their baby to sleep in our arms, put their baby to sleep on their stomach, rock their baby in a pram to go to sleep, make sure their baby has their comforter in the cot with them etc etc etc. Some parents are quite disappointed and surprised to find out that as child care educators, we are unable to do any of those things as we must adhere to the safe sleep guidelines put out by Red Nose (formerly SIDS and Kids).
With these safe sleep messages in mind, try to establish a healthy sleep routine and try to get to the point where your baby can self settle. Tresillian.org.au has some great advice on sleeping and settling, crying, sleep cycles and much more.
The childcare centre will most likely follow your baby’s sleep routine, as much as possible, as long as it follows safe sleep guidelines, and you can communicate with the educators regarding times, sleep cycles and length of sleep. It is always good to keep in mind that childcare centres have staff:child ratios for different age groups (1:4 for 0-2’s in NSW) and so in a room of 8 babies aged under the age of 2, there may only be the minimum of 2 educators for those 8 babies, all with potentially different sleep times, feeding times, nappy changes and awake/play time. This means that if your baby requires ‘patting’ to sleep for 20 minutes before sleeping, it may not be possible with a minimum number of staff and therefore it will be a smoother transition to childcare if your baby has learned to self settle to sleep.
Sicknesses and Incidents
When your baby starts attending a childcare centre, it is inevitable that they will pick up viruses that are going around and become sick. They are sharing toys with other children that may have been mouthed, they are curious and like to get close to other children and their immune system has not fully developed, therefore they will have a lower resistance to the germs that can circulate easily in this kind of environment.
Childcare centres usually have strict policies and procedures regarding illness in children, infectious diseases, exclusion of unwell children and administration of medications so it may be a good idea to familiarise yourself with these policies upon enrolment so that when your child becomes ill, you are prepared for the childcare centre to possibly exclude your child until they are well and ask for a doctor’s certificate upon return.
Another common occurrence in childcare centres is incidents and accidents. Babies and young children are curious, inquisitive by nature and they are also learning to balance, take first steps, co-ordinate their movements and interact with others. This combination can lead to falls, bumps, accidental scratches by other children, etc etc etc. It is wise to expect that your child will come home with scratches, slight bruises, grazes and/or cuts as a result of accidents while playing. If the incidents seem excessive, it may be that there is a lack of adequate supervision in the childcare centre and if you feel that this may be the case, it would be smart to approach the educators and the Director about your concerns, but there is no doubt that some children are more accident prone than others and so you may be asked to read and sign incident reports written by educators regarding any incidents or injuries. Parents can request copies of incident reports for their own records too. It is also sensible to understand that educators may not be able to explain every single small bruise or scratch as it is not possible for them to have their eyes on your child every minute of the day. If you are wanting constant one on one supervision for your child, it may be wise to consider a nanny at home, rather than a childcare centre.
With a staff:child ratio of 1:4 (in NSW) for 0-2’s, it will not be possible for educators to pick up your child and hold them/carry them around every time they grizzle or cry. Educators have varied routines to follow for the group of babies in their care and while they will spend time playing with your baby, picking them up, comforting them when they are distressed and taking care of their basic needs, if your child can play happily on the floor with toys and activities without needing the constant attention or cuddles from an educator, then the transition to the childcare centre will be a lot smoother. I am not suggesting for a second that any baby should be left to cry when they are clearly upset, hurt or distressed but a baby who can play and explore their environment without the constant attention from adults/caregivers will cope much better in a childcare centre environment than a baby who may have received constant attention in the home environment in the way of being picked up, comforted or carried around every time they make a grizzle or a whingey sound. Educators in a childcare centre will have to make important decisions at times regarding the needs of the children around them and prioritize those needs. In a room of 8 babies and 2 educators for example, where one baby has just rolled over and bumped their head and therefore upset and crying, another baby is grizzling because it is time for their bottle, another has just had a nappy leak all through their clothes and your baby is having a bit of a cry because they want a cuddle, which 2 babies do you think will be prioritized for attention in that moment? Most likely it will be the baby who has bumped their head and needs comfort and a possible ice pack, and the baby who needs to have a nappy changed. While I am not suggesting that educators will not adhere to staff:child ratios to ensure those babies are taken care of adequately in that moment, the baby who wants a cuddle but has their basic needs met will most likely be left to grizzle for a bit longer on the floor before being comforted.
If your baby is encouraged to play and explore at home and not picked up and carried constantly, or picked up every time they make a grizzly noise, they will be much better equipped to deal with being in the childcare centre environment.
Babies start to experience separation anxiety about the age of 9 months old when they start to understand the concept of object permanence (understanding that an object or a person is still there, even if hidden) and they may become very upset when you are first leaving them at the childcare centre but in a lot of cases, it is the parent who is experiencing more of the separation anxiety than the child and children can be very intuitive and sense their parent’s emotional state. If a parent shows a child that they are visibly upset or unintentionally pass on some of that anxiety to the child, the child can become even more upset. It is therefore wise to mentally prepare yourself for this moment so that when it is time to kiss your child and say goodbye for the day, you are presenting this moment as a positive experience with a smile, a cuddle, a happy face and a positive interaction with the caregiver who is taking your child from you, to communicate to your child that they have nothing to worry about. Children under the age of one can most definitely pick up on your emotions and behave accordingly.
You can find more information about separation anxiety in babies and young children at raisingchildren.net.au but it is important to remember to manage your own emotions first and in many cases, your child will be happy to go to another caregiver.
Summary – Starting My Baby in a Childcare Centre
It is a big decision, deciding to start your baby in a childcare centre and after more than 20 years in the industry, and 10 years as a childcare centre Director, the tips I have provided are ones that I communicate to new families as they come for a tour before enrolling their child in our childcare centre. New mums are often so appreciative of the above tips and may have never considered how important these things are.
The transition from home to starting in a childcare centre can be a difficult one but by following the above tips, the transition can be made much smoother for your family and your child.