Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reader Question: Starting Daycare with a Sensitive Baby

Recently, a reader asked us a question about her 3-month-old daughter. She was worried about starting daycare because the baby didn’t like people other than her parents to hold her. Our reader also was worried that her baby would be afraid because she was too young to understand that her mother was coming back at the end of the day. In this post, we'll review some of the ideas we've shared in the past about sensitive babies, separation, and how babies learn what is safe and what is not.

Sensitive Babies and Daycare

All of us have felt the pull of wanting to be with our babies when we are at work. We know how hard it is to leave babies with other caregivers however much we love and trust those caregivers. But, we also know that babies are born with a desire to learn and socialize with many people, not only their parents. Because your baby cries routinely when held by others, your baby may be quite sensitive to differences in how she is held and to overstimulation. Because your baby is so young, it is unlikely that separation anxiety is happening yet. We’ve provided tips for helping babies deal with separation in an earlier post.

As your baby gets older, she will have more tolerance for being with others, especially those who are familiar to her. Visiting the day care with the baby before the baby starts may be an option to help the baby be more familiar with the surroundings. While your baby might be fussy when you drop her off at daycare, she is likely to settle down quickly and be very excited when you return. Sometimes, she might also let you know that she was not happy that you left (but just for a short time). It will get easier once the routine is established.

Your Baby is Watching You

An important thing to consider is how you feel about your baby’s caregiver. It is important that you find someone that you trust so that you are confident that your baby will be happy with her new caregiver. Remember our posts about “social referencing?” Your baby will look at your face to see if people are “safe” or not. Having a happy, confident look when dropping your baby off, even if your baby becomes a little upset can be an important way to help your baby adjust to daycare and feel safe. Your understanding smile will let your baby know that while she is upset right now, you know she’s about to have a great day.


  1. I totally echo the visiting with the baby beforehand. It helps you see how the caregiver interacts with your baby too.

    I did this with my girls when we started a new daycare. I was more concerned about my older daughter's experience than the baby. We visited twice to get the feel for the place and for daughter #1 to meet the other kids and interact with them. And to see how daycare lady interacted with daughter #2.

  2. I am keeping two children. My grandaughter is in the sensitive category. She startles at even a cleared throat after 3 weeks of shared childcare. Her parents are awesome. I think the other child's parents are awesome as well. We introduced me to each child gradually, and both babies are thriving 6 and 8 months approx.

    My concern is that the 8 month old has an exceedingly loud and piercing "scream". He uses it for both joy and frustration, he also has a grunting noise he does. He does not practice sounds yet. Only these two sounds. Because he is so loud and so frequent, the sensitive baby seems to be on edge. She is waked from sleep even though they are on separate floors for napping. His parents reinforce it by laughing at his antics. However, others comment to parents about it.

    I did a search on "loud babies" and all I found was a blog about parents that all have noticed their children's exceptional loudness, but all found it funny. I can do ear plugs, but the other sensitive child cannot. How can I help them both? We have music playing softly in the background. We have normal learning ops eating is not a problem, but sleep and startle are.