Going back to work after maternity leave can be a pretty daunting time for all concerned. Leaving your baby in the care of someone else for the first time, whether your childcare options are with grandparents, at childminder or even a nursery, can be a bit overwhelming for both Mom and baby, and it can understandably take a little while for both of you to adjust to the new routine.
Having been their entire world since the day they were born, being away from you and seeing a wealth of unfamiliar faces in a strange and new environment can also lead to some feelings of separation anxiety in your little one, so it is important to help and support them to settle in as quickly as possible.
Both of my daughters went to a nursery when they were 11 months old, and as expected, we did experience a few tears (from both of us!!) during the transitional period, however there are a few practical steps you can take to help your baby settle into their new childcare environment.
- Choose the start date carefully – As much as you want to spend every moment of your maternity leave with your baby, consider starting their childcare slightly earlier than you need to, getting them used to being away from you and having a change of scenery. The benefit of this is that if there are tears (from either baby or you!) you don’t have to worry about putting on a brave face in front of friends and colleagues!
- Tell the childcare provider as much as possible about your child including their likes/dislikes and normal routine. Understanding more about your baby can help them replicate familiar elements throughout the day and help them feel more at home. If your baby has any individual traits, characteristics or sayings let them know! My daughter always used to say “durk” when she wanted a drink, and whilst we were used to this, the staff at her nursery would have been none the wiser!
- Crying when you leave is quite normal and to be expected – in most cases they will stop very soon after when they are distracted by something fun, but you will probably feel very guilty leaving them as they tug at your heart strings!
- Don’t let them see you’re upset – if you are feeling emotional or sad at leaving them behind, don’t let them see. Babies are far more intuitive than we give them credit for, and if you look upset or worried at drop off, they are likely to pick up on this and feel anxious too. Put on a brave face and smile, even if you don’t feel like it inside. You want your baby to think that childcare is an exciting and fun place to visit, so that it doesn’t become a place that they fear.
- Don’t prolong the goodbyes – saying goodbye to your child is important, as drifting away when they’re not looking can actually make babies more concerned about you unexpectedly disappearing. That said, don’t prolong the farewell routine, as making too much of a big deal of your departure can have a negative impact. Keep it simple, give them a kiss and say “Mom will be back later!” leaving promptly.
- Take something familiar – If they are struggling to adjust to their new surroundings, take along their favorite teddy, blanket or comforter. Most childcare providers will let you take something familiar in those early days to help them adjust. I found taking their normal sleepsuit for naptimes helped them settle more easily, with familiar textures and scents from home.
- Distraction – During those first few sessions, it is perfectly normal to feel a bit worried, and the temptation to go and get them early or ring up every half an hour is strong! Distract yourself – make the most of that child free time you’ve been craving – have a bath, go to the toilet without an audience, paint your nails or even have a HOT coffee whist you can! Do something you don’t normally get the chance to, and the time will fly by until pick up.
- Give it time. As with anything in life, adjusting to a new routine takes time, so don’t expect for it to click into place overnight. Remember that childcare is a hugely positive and beneficial experience for your child, so don’t feel guilty. It will be a blessing to watch them learn new skills and make their first little friendships!
If your child has already started nursery or childcare, how did you help them settle into their new routine?