How to transition to daycare (some tips and tricks I've learned):
1) If you have the time, a couple months before your child's start date, begin having regular visits with the new care provider. We began visiting the daycare in mid-August, a full 2 months before her start date. We talked with the lead teacher in her classroom and decided that two one-hour visits per week would be great. We had the time, since I was home on maternity leave, so it wasn't an issue for us (and actually gave us something to do). If you have a good provider, this won't be an issue. We were originally only going to do one visit per week for 6 weeks, but she bumped it up to 2 visits per week for 8 weeks. Now I feel like part of the center's family after having spent so much time there.
2) For the first few visits, don't try to push your baby to play independently or with other children. Your baby will venture out at his/her own pace. Adelaide was very shy at first. She spent a large chunk of that time on my lap. I made sure to interact with the other babies, the toys, and the teacher in a very positive and upbeat attitude. By doing this, Adelaide was able to see that I was comfortable in the new space with the new people, making her feel more comfortable too. The first visit went wonderfully because of this positive energy, enough for Adelaide to want to explore a little bit. As the visits went on, she would crawl away from me a little more, for longer periods of time. She felt comfortable and safe.
3) When your baby seems ready, leave the room for 10-15 minutes. Make sure the teacher is ready and able to spend some one-on-one time with your baby, in case he/she gets upset at you leaving. I did this during week 5 of the visits, and though she cried for most of the time, I was able to come back in after a very short period to console her. This was her beginning to learn that yes, mommy will come back and she is safe and taken care of.
4) NEVER sneak away from your baby. Always make sure to say I love you and kiss your baby goodbye! If you sneak away, eventually your baby will realize that you are not there, and then every time you are around they will cling to you wondering if you're going to disappear again! Yes, Adelaide gets a huge frown and makes the saddest face when I leave, but I make sure I'm smiling and happy, and now before I'm even down the hall she isn't crying anymore! (Yet, if Daddy drops her off, she gets excited walking down the hall and reaches out for her teachers!)
5) Get some comfort items together. For the first week, I made sure to bring a tee shirt I slept in so it'd have my scent on it. Her teacher said it was a lifesaver. When Adelaide was really upset, the teacher would drape the shirt over her chest, and Adelaide would snuggle in and go to sleep. (Awww!!!) I also brought Adelaide's favorite book, and made a family photo album for her, full of pictures of mommy and daddy and her cats.
6) Start slow. We had the time to do a two-week transition. I highly recommend this, not only for your baby, but for YOU! The first couple of days we only did 2 hours. It was very tough. I couldn't imagine having to go to work directly after dropping her off for the first time, so this transition was good for me to be able to be away from her for long periods of time. I was able to adjust and am now able to give lots more attention to work, instead of obsessing over my baby (not that I don't think about her every two minutes). Each day after the first couple of days, we added either a half-hour or an hour, working our way up to a full day. I made sure she had two full days before our last weekend together.
7) Be prepared to give your baby LOTS of attention in the evenings. Adelaide was and still can be extra sensitive after picking her up from daycare. The first few days she was fussy in the evenings and did not want to be put down AT ALL. But now, she's full of energy and very happy after getting used to the routine. She also nursed more frequently, wanting me close. Also, those first couple of weeks, she would really freak out if I even thought of leaving the room. She assumed I'm leaving for a long stretch of time, and I respect those feelings, so I took her with me around the house. I knew it was still very new for her, that it would get easier... and it has!
8) Don't worry if your baby doesn't eat well the first few days. It took Adelaide a few days to want to eat at daycare. It wasn't until day 9 of the transition that she drank 6 ounces of breastmilk, and ate her jar of food, and two baby rice cakes. I started with bringing two 4-ounce bottles of breastmilk per day, plus a jar of homemade baby food, and kept a package of the rice cakes at the center. Each day she ate a little better, because she got used to the routine and feeling more and more comfortable. Give your baby time, it will happen! Now she eats like a champ: three 4-ounce bottles, a plate of table food, and some sort of snack (either puffs, half a banana, or a baby fruit smoothie pouch)!
9) Stay busy! This one's for you. When your baby is at daycare, make sure you stay busy. The first couple days, I just waited around for the time to go pick up Adelaide. I obsessed and cried a lot. After that, though, I kept busy! I've gotten a lot of things done that I'd been meaning to get done, like hemming my pants, trimming the hedges, and getting my oil changed (things that are difficult to do with a baby in tow!).
So there you have it: my tips for transitioning to daycare. It's not easy, but taking a slow approach makes it such a calmer time for your baby. Just remember to respect your baby's feelings, give lots and lots of cuddles, and that it will get easier!
Do you have any additional tips or tricks? I begin work on Monday, but please share any advice or experience you have! Even if I can't utilize your tips, others might be able to!