Transitioning your baby to childcare is one of the more nerve-wracking events in the life of a new working mama. Thoughtful planning about this transition – and about all the logistics of how you’ll go back to work after maternity leave – can really help bring your mind to the present, though.
Whether you’ve been home on maternity leave for a few weeks or a few months, transitioning your baby to childcare can be daunting and fraught with lots of emotions. The day I dropped off my first baby at daycare – a place I had researched carefully and truly loved – I left with eyes full of tears, head swimming with thoughts like: “I don’t even know these people! My baby! What on earth possessed me to walk out that door?!”
And also “Hallelujah! For the next few hours, the mysteries behind his cries are someone else’s to figure out! His spit up is someone else’s to clean! And they’re experts at this. I don’t even know what the heck I’m doing…” And of course: “is leaving him for 2 hours worth pumping, or should I just wait until I see him? Maybe he won’t want to drink any milk at daycare, and then he’ll be hungry?…or maybe he’ll drink so much at daycare and then I’ll be engorged when I see him?!…” Ah, what a morning.
While that swell of thoughts and emotions is, I suspect, inevitable, I do have some advice that can help your transition go more smoothly.
6 Tips for Transitioning Your Baby to Childcare More Smoothly (for You and for Baby)
- Use a transition week schedule to ease both of you into the experience. No matter what type of childcare arrangement you will be using, ask for an official “transition week” where the amount of time in childcare increases as the week goes on. I was lucky in that my daycare had a schedule they used for all new arrivals, no matter what age of the child. It looked something like this: Monday, 9-11, Tuesday, 9-12:30, Wednesday, 9-1, Thursday, 9-3:30, Friday, 9-5. And if you’re able to do the transition week the week before you start back to work, all the better. For both of my children, I did the transition before returning to the office, and I discovered it was much-needed time for me to shop for some non-maternity work clothes, take a yoga class (alone!), have lunch with a friend, and get a haircut.
- Don’t linger. Last big hug and kiss goodbye, and then go. I remember my daycare teachers telling me it was important not to linger at drop-off, even the first day and the first week. And I remember being really angry at that warning. (I’ll stay as long as I want, thank you very much!) But, I followed their advice, and I do now believe it’s better for the child not to have a really extended goodbye, and not to set up an expectation that there will be one, even from the beginning.
- Know that baby’s sleep “schedule”, including nighttime sleep, will probably be off for a bit. Now I use that term “schedule” loosely here, as some babies have one from the get-go. And for others, well, there is no such thing. But expect that whatever you previously had gotten used to is likely to change in the sleep department when childcare starts. Baby might get up more at night to cuddle. And it may take a few weeks to get naps figured out. Just remember how quickly everything changes with these little guys. At 3 months they still may take 4 naps a day. But by about the 1 year mark, they’re down to only one – which always seemed fascinating and crazy to me at the same time.
- Plan for extra cuddle time. Chances are, you’ll both be extremely happy to see one another at the end of each day apart – whether it was for a few hours or the whole day. So at least for a week, forget the laundry. Order in some food. Clean only the bottles you’ll need for daycare. And spend some serious time together after work in your favorite snuggle spot.
- Remind yourself that “alloparents” have been critical to child rearing for pretty much all of human history. I learned the term “alloparents” from Brigid Schulte’s Book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One Has the Time. Here’s a good introduction to the idea, from the book: [Context: Brigid is interviewing Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an evolutionary anthropologist, and they’re discussing Kung women in the Kalahari Desert in Africa, 2,000 years ago] “The whole idea that mothers stayed at camp and the men went off to hunt? No way! These women were walking thousands of miles every year with their children. Or if it was not safe, they were leaving them back at camp.” She pauses to drive that point home: Sometimes mothers left their children back at camp. The children were with their fathers, older siblings, grandparents, relatives, and other trusted, nurturing adults- people Hrdy calls “alloparents” (“allo” means “other than” in Greek). “It’s natural for mothers to work. It’s natural for mothers to take care of their children,” she says. “What’s unnatural is for mothers to be the sole caretaker of children. What’s unnatural is not to have more support for mothers.”
- Pause at transition time and take care of yourself. Take the time – whether it’s one minute or five – to be mindful of the transitions in your day, from baby to work, and work to baby. To help me shift gears with intention, for example, I try to pause as I’m changing into my commuting shoes at the end of the day. I take a minute to breathe in my workday, and breathe out my work to-do list. Then to breathe in the thought of the babes who await on the other side of my metro ride, and breathe out however I’m feeling about having been gone. Take note of how you’re feeling and just feel. Take care of yourself your first weeks back – and every week thereafter. And to help in this taking-care-of department, find other mamas who’ve been there, done that. And talk to them about their experiences.
So just breathe, mama, breathe. This transition will sort itself out. You will be fine. Baby will be fine. And each day will bring you a reunion to cherish.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.