Transitioning to Daycare

Are you wondering about how to transition your little one to daycare? PSP parents share what they did to transition their baby to daycare.

Need help navigating the daycare process? The Park Slope Parents Guide to Finding and Securing Daycare features explainers on the different types of childcare, tips compiled from PSP members, and much more—AND it's available to members at a reduced price. Check out our Guides Library HERE!

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One PSP parent writes:

"My son starts daycare at 3 mos on 4/3 while I start back to work full-time.
Do any of you have advice on how to help him transition?
The daycare offers some hours the week before to transition.
In addition to the emotional difficulty, I'm wondering about eating and sleeping changes.
Thanks for your thoughts!"



Babies are resilient and adjust quickly
For most parents, a transition was simply easing them in a few hours for a few days ahead of time.
Routine gets easier and there will be trial and error - so be gentle on yourself.




Transition the week before you go to work, gently increasing the hours. Leave a personal items of yours with him (like a T-shirt):

"I'm sure it's a hard time for you right now, with lots of questions! I started work full time 3 weeks ago and the week(s) leading up were definitely emotional.  All that said, I can tell you once you are back in the swing of things and on a routine it does get easier, probably mostly because you are just so busy now that emotions are the last thing on your mind. I'm no expert on this matter, but here is my experience so far....

Our daycare did a transition period the week before I went back to work.  The first day was one hour and I stayed w/ him and got to know the caretakers, meet the other babies, and ask questions.  Day two was 2 hours and I left him there, Day 3 4 hours, and by the end of the week a full day.  I think the week transition period is a really important time for mom and baby - so if you can do this w/ your daycare you should.  Of course it wasn't how I wanted to spend my last week of maternity leave, with him in daycare, b/c I wanted every moment w/ him, made the first day back at work a lot easier knowing he and I were both comfortable with his care and I didn't have to worry.

I also wasn't sure about feedings, naps etc.  It took some trial and error, so during that transition week I was able to adjust accordingly.  Because I was solely breastfeeding, I wasn't sure about the quantity of milk needed in a bottle, so I started w/ 3 4oz bottles and gave them an extra bottle and container of formula in case he needed it as a back up. In the end I'm sending 4 4-5oz bottles a day which he is drinking.  As for naps, we weren't on a schedule to begin with, and our daycare will either work on a schedule or let him sleep as he needs, it's really what I prefer.  My main concern is he's eating enough during the day so they will wake him to feed if necessary.  They take note of all is activities, feeds, naps, changes, etc.,  and I can see what he did at the end of the day.

I also left a t-shirt of mine w/ him the first week which they put in his crib...not sure if he cared or not, but made me feel better something from me was with him.  We love our daycare and the women are so nice and he's happy and smiles going and leaving, so it makes me happy at the end of the day.
Enjoy your last few weeks with your babe! And just know it's probably harder for you then him."


Transition with a few hours at first, and also bring something you sleep with:

"I have the same start date for daycare for my daughter, who will be exactly 5 months that day.  The day care also suggested coming for a few hours, two days at the end of March.  I asked them about what I could do to help smooth the transition, and they assured me that most babies adjust within days, which I thought seemed optimistic (I figured a few weeks?).  They did mention something about sending something that I slept with or in, such as a tee shirt, I guess to put in the crib for naps..  but after I left, I was thinking that doesn't sound too safe.  The advice I've been given by other November moms is to put in writing any special requests, as well as baby's likes/dislikes, what helps to soothe, etc.  I've also heard not to linger to much at drop off, and to project a really a positive attitude about the daycare.  Not sure it matters at such a young age, but people swear the baby can sense it if you are nervous about it and will feed off your energy, so we've already been talking to her about all the " new friends" she will meet at "school" :-)


Sometimes you don't need a transition:

"We started daycare for full time when my son was 3 months, and no transition period was necessary for us. He was too young to recognize what's going on, and was happy wherever he was. I'd advice to practice bottle feeding beforehand (which was our only concern). I personally think mothers (and maybe fathers) are the ones who needs more mental preparation :)"


And according to one daycare, babies are too young to have separation anxiety:

"My son started daycare full-time three weeks ago a little shy of being four months.  I had asked my daycare about a transition period and they told me it would not be necessary because he was too young to have separation anxiety.  I'm sure people have lots of different feelings about that but I chose to go with that theory and it actually worked out great.  I wrote up a schedule that I asked the daycare to follow in terms of naps and feedings.  I think it's best to go into this a little open and understanding that the daycare will try to follow your directions but they also have many babies they are caring for and so things will be a little off.  My only complaint is that his last nap ends a bit earlier than I would like so he usually is in bed by 6:30 so I don't get a lot of time with him at the end of the day.  However he fully makes up for this with his 6AM wake up:)  I told my concerns to the daycare and they have been trying really hard to get him to nap later in the afternoon which I appreciate.  I keep telling people that I think the anticipation of going back to work and full-time daycare is much worse than the reality.  I was in tears for days leading up to the first day and there were definitely tears on my end on the first drop off but it becomes routine pretty quickly. Also ask the daycare to send you pictures and updates throughout the day.
Good luck!


Build up to a few days:

We are in the throws of the daycare transition right now - so I'm no expert, but just a few things to share! Definitely use the transition time to build up to a full day - Franny (6 months) is on day 3 of her transition and she has come back home the last two days very tired, as her naps have been shorter at daycare with all the noise.  I think she will adjust, but it's been nice to get her a good solid nap at home after a few hours of stimulation while she gets used to it.


Start the transition earlier than you need:

Franny has been bottle fed exclusively, but even so she is eating a bit less at daycare during the transition than she usually does at home, and has been waking up in the night for bottles when she was sleeping through the night.  I think this will get better over time.

If you can, start transitioning earlier than you may think you need to. We didn't take into account a lot of other factors that have messed up our transition plan.  We didn't know it would take our Dr multiple days to finish her medical form, there was a snow storm., she had her 6 month shots and then a slight fever/cold. Also, she started rolling in the Magic Merlin so we were also transitioning her to a sleep sack, so she's been awake more in the night.  SO many changes at once that we didn't predict!   We started daycare a few days later than we wanted to, and now have had to move work schedules around next week to give her some more time to transition up to a full day.

It has been incredibly emotional for me to have my husband's paternity leave ending - even though I've been back at work for a few months now. It's affected me more than I thought it would to send Franny to daycare. Just know if it's hard you aren't alone! I've been trying to reiterate all the pros of daycare - socialization, learning new situations, independence - and pros of me working, which helps. Rationally, I know daycare is good for us, so I am just trying to push through these tough first few weeks.
Hope this helps!


Daycares will have their own routine (and germs!)

"My daughter also started daycare at 3 months (she is now 11 months)- we did the transitioning, but honestly I think at that age it's more useful for the parents than the baby. A couple of thoughts.

1. At 3 months they're still too young to really 'enjoy' daycare, it wasn't until N. was about 5 months old that she actually seemed to like being at daycare. Before that she wasn't unhappy, she just seemed indifferent. Now she's clearly excited to be at daycare

2.If possible see if you can shift your day so you can leave a little early to pick your baby up. I now work 8/8:30-5ish. This gives me a bit more time with N. before she goes to bed.

3. Expect lots of colds. N. hasn't actually had a fever yet, but she perpetually has the sniffles. According to our pediatrician it's pretty much the norm and if you don't put them in daycare the same thing happens when they're older and start school.

4. Your child's schedule may be completely different at daycare. N. only takes 1 relatively short nap at daycare, but when she is home with us she takes two longer naps. Apparently daycare is a lot more interesting!

Good luck! It definitely gets better- now when we have to keep N. home she gets bored and grumpy and is so excited to be back at daycare."


Don't overthink it!
And bring extra sleeping items for baby: sleep sack, mobile and pacifiers:

"We did the daycare transition a few weeks ago. A. did two half days and that seemed to work well for her and I.
I am glad we did that cause it made the first full day so much better and easier!

My advice is don't overthink it and try to enjoy the last bit of maternity leave and remember there will be weekends.
Babies at that this age should do just fine. Many have told me the transitions are more for the parents than the babies. Babies will be fine at this age. But it def is good to do something.

Also while your baby is in daycare for the transition do something nice for yourself so you have something positive to look forward to.

We did bring sleep sack, mobile, and pacifiers in addition to the diapers and wipes and diaper cream. Anything your baby normally has when he or she is with you.

You got this!"


More advice from a March 2021 thread


One parent writes:

"Our son D. (17 months) will start at AMA Daycare here in Kensington next week. He's never spent the day away from our apartment or spent time in a group setting with other children; he's only been with his father, me, or a nanny, and even with the nanny, his father and I have usually been present in the next room, working. And because of COVID restrictions, we can't visit beforehand to familiarize him with the place or the people, or take him into the daycare ourselves when we drop him off.


We plan to do a gradual transition where he spends an hour there on Monday, two hours on Tuesday, etc. But I wondered if any of you have been through this during COVID, and if you might have tips on easing the transition for him (and us!). Any advice would be very much appreciated. (And if anyone else is at AMA, that would be great to hear as well.)"




Send along a lovey:

"One suggestion is that he take a lovey or stuffed animal that he is attached to so that he can have something familiar to comfort him. And maybe a favorite toy or book that he could play with by himself if he felt overwhelmed. Just remember to label everything :)"


Arrange a playdate with classmates ahead of time:

'If you know any of the other parents, perhaps arranging an outdoor playdate one on one so that he can meet some of his soon to be classmates."


And meet with the daycare as well if possible:

"One other thing you could ask daycares, if they have a set outdoor time, is if you could meet them once or twice outside with your child before they officially start. Maybe a lot of daycares won’t be able to accommodate that, but our small family daycare provider offered it when my daughter started with 10 months in July. It was really nice and made it feel a bit more 'normal.' We just saw her and the other kids in the park and she held S. little bit and played with her. But even if it’s not possible, I am sure your child will be totally fine."


Give the daycare a heads-up about favorite songs:

"And if he has any favorite songs, likes Wheels on the Bus, let AMA know so they have a short cut to engaging with him."


Prepare for minor nap difficulties and illnesses:

"Hi! We've moved away from Brooklyn this summer (sad) but can relate to this because we just started J. in daycare last week after spending his entire life at home with us. It was so emotional (for me) but I have to tell you he LOVED it. Hes 17 months and its the perfect age for them - he just seemed so ready. I was going to do a reduced or gradual schedule to introduce him as well but everyone at the daycare said it would be easier for him if we just started him and kept him on a consistent schedule. A couple of things to mentally prepare for is that naps may suck for a while and you could have a cranky baby at night for a week or so. And he will most definitely get sick within the first couple of weeks. We actually went for a full week and then were out 3 days the next week because he had a bad cold and ran a temperature! It's frustrating but part of the process and I keep reminding myself its good for his immune system in the long run! Just start your vitamin c and elderberry now so you don't catch the cold too.

Best of luck....after drop off its ok to weep harder than you ever have before. I know I did."


Try not to let any nerves you may have rub off on your child:

"We recently put our kid back in day care after 10 + months at home with us. There will obviously be bumps in the process but I think it’s helpful to try to make sure that your kid isn’t picking up on any negative vibes you may have. If you are nervous, they undoubtedly will pick up on it too and wonder what’s up!!

Our part-time nanny was previously a day care worker, and she was unwaveringly positive about him going back to “school”. She reinforced that he would have a great time, make loads of new friends and even bought him new shoes for his first day. I think her positive attitude was perfect and we try to do all the same things to ensure he is as comfortable as possible and any concerns or tears we have are not ones he would see or pick up on!

They are the professionals at childcare - we are the novices!

Realize it’s easier said than done, but hope that’s somewhat helpful!"


Familiarize them with the facility ahead of time:

"We haven’t made this transition yet (waiting til the fall), but one thing that I anticipate doing ahead of time is strolling by the place every day to say that this is school etc. I would also try to go during drop off so my kids could see other kids going into the building...   I’m hoping that this will allow it to at least not be an unfamiliar place."


Establish routines to make goodbyes easier:

"We sent our son part time (starting at 18 months, after almost 11 months of just us and a rare nanny or grandparent appearance and having mainly only watched other kids while at the playground). He seems to be doing well in his first couple of weeks—crying at drop off, supposedly for just 5-10 minutes, and then playing. We talked it up a lot and made a 'book”'of his teachers’ photos (which I added to with the photos of him they sent the first day) that we look at often, and always on daycare mornings. We also sing a terrible earworm from my childhood—you’re welcome in advance—called 'My Mommy Comes Back.' (We sing it with 'Daddy,' too, although neither version seems to be working yet.)"


Adjusting might be easier than you think:

"Hi! We also just started our son (almost 15 months) at daycare two weeks ago after he'd always only been with us. We had started going to our neighborhood playground late last year just to get outside, but he would never play with any of the other kids. He just watched them and took it in. On his first day the director suggested he do a half day to ease him in, but we only picked him up an hour shy of a full day because he seemed to be doing ok. Now he goes three consecutive days a week. We had mentally prepared ourselves for his schedule and mood to be affected by his time at daycare, but surprisingly he's been consistent while at home. He cries when we drop him off, and off and on during the day while there, doesn't nap as much as he does at home, or eat all of his lunch, BUT generally we can tell he really enjoys the stimulation and people, and in less than two weeks he's grown to love dancing and clapping to anything that resembles music—something he obviously enjoys doing while at daycare. :)

Good luck! It'll all shake out in the end!"