By Cathy Monaghan, M.Sc, H,Dip, RD.

Starting your child in childcare is a big milestone for you and your child whether it is just after maternity leave or when they are older.

Reading a book in childcare.

Whether you choose a creche, childminder, nanny or have family to help, planning ahead will make the transition easier and help you survive the first day!

As parents we are often so busy with the day to day stuff, that it can be difficult to plan ahead.

To ensure that the transition to childcare is as smooth as possible, planning is essential. A smooth transition benefits everyone!

Here I share my tips for how I made starting childcare as easy as possible.

Let’s begin by approaching this at the age your child will be at when they start.

Tips for starting your child in Childcare at around 6 months?

  • Find out the routine of creche/ childminder well in advance of your child starting. The transition will be more smooth and enjoyable for all involved if there is not too much of a difference between home and childcare.

  • Consider introducing solids a little before you return to work. The recommendations are to start solids ‘at around 6 months’. There is no need to start the same week as you are due back to work. The earlier you start, the slower you go.

  • Depending on which childcare or daycare option you choose, find out well in advance whether you are required to provide the food or if they provide food, often you are required to provide the food for babies under 1.

If you provide the food:

  • Be realistic with how much time you need to prepare the meals, decide in advance what meals (tastes and flavours) will make your life easier in the long run. If you have completed The Weaning Masterclass, look back over the Before You Start pdf, or get it here. Base what your baby eats around what you like to eat. Don’t make separate meals. Adapt what you eat to suit your baby, it will only be for a short time.

  • Stock up your freezer with homemade ready meals for baby. For me this was all one pot meals such as lentil casserole, lamb stew, chicken casserole prepared in bulk and frozen in ‘meal portions’. That way I just added the frozen meal to a cooler bag on their way to daycare and it went into the fridge when we got there.

  • Do have some shop bought ready made baby meals as back up too. Choose ones that don’t have fruit added and are most similar to what you like to eat. That way you are still helping your child to develop a taste for the meals that you like to eat.

  • Decide in advance about milk feeds. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, where would you like to be when your baby starts in childcare? There is no need to change milk intake before 7 months.

Tips for starting your child in Childcare between 7-12 months?

  • At this age you may consider changing the routine for milk feeds. If you’re breastfeeding you can absolutely continue when you return to work. You will still be with your baby 12-14 hours per day so lots of time for breastfeeds. Aim for a breastfeed before you go to work, one when you get home and one before bed or during the night.

  • The closer your baby is to 1 year it is ok to use cow’s milk as an option once breastmilk is still their main source of milk. Cow’s milk or an alternative is not adequate as main milk in under one’s.

  • If you are formula feeding then start looking at keeping formula intake to between 16-20oz per day after 7 months. This can be divided over any number of bottles. Moving towards 3 bottles per day by 8 months can be a good idea as you will likely be under time pressure. Reducing your stress also helps keep the atmosphere at meals smooth so having one less bottle may help with this too!

  • Eating together is always important. Have a think about what meals you may be able to eat with your baby. It is not possible in our busy world to eat every meal with our children. Perhaps some days you eat breakfast together and other days it is dinner, that is ok. Any meal counts. The act of eating together will make eating out together easier at the weekends or eating together on holidays more enjoyable. So do try and share meals without distractions whenever you can.

  • Try and take a moment to connect before meals after work. Sometimes a book, a song or a cuddle before a meal can make all the difference.

Tips for starting your child in Childcare between 1-3 years?

Before they start, decide on the routine that will work for your work/life balance. We can tweak things from there. Fussiness can set in at this age my suggestions are:

  • Have your child in a routine at around 1 that does not need to change too much until they start montessori or their ECCE year.

  • Your child does not need a bottle or formula after 1. You could keep a bedtime bottle as your home routine, but in general milk and formula intake is not now a significant part of their nutritional needs.

  • If you are breastfeeding, continue for as long as you wish. It can help to have a food first, breast after approach.

  • As before, eating together is important whenever you can. We can’t eat every meal with our children, but what meals can you eat together? Perhaps some days you eat breakfast together and other days it is dinner, that is ok. Any meal counts.

The act of eating together will make eating out together easier and eating together on holidays more enjoyable. So do try and share meals without distractions whenever you can.

  • To help your child settle into childcare consider using familiar bowls, spoons, beakers for the first few weeks. If the foods are new at least having familiar dishes will help relax your child.

  • Often children at this age may only eat 2 meals in a day and pick at the other. You may only be with your child for the ‘picky meal’. The childminder/ creche may tell you they eat great but it is hard to believe sometimes. I cover this in more detail in The Toddler Masterclass.

daycare activities

Do:

  • Allow 2-3 weeks of a setting in period. Make this easier by providing familiar foods/ snacks and serving containers. As your child settles in, consider removing food from packets so that your child gets used to eating food rather than a particular brand of food. This will make your life easier in the long run.

  • Always keep the school lunchbox in mind, what foods do you envisage including then? Help your child develop a taste and be familiar with these now!

  • Try and stock up the freezer before you go back. Make double of whatever meals you can in the few weeks before you return.

  • Be gentle with yourself.

  • If you are using a childminder or family then consider inviting them over for a meal. Demonstrate your approach to meals, the atmosphere you create, the sensory experience that eating is, the no pressure to eat!

Don’t:

  • Don’t make your child’s meals something that only you know how to prepare. Share the responsibility. Make easy meals acceptable too! Beans on toast, eggs on toast or a simple pasta dinner are all ok.

  • Become overly reliant on ready made baby food. They have a place when you are stuck but overtime can steer your child’s preferences in a direction that might not benefit you in the long term. If you do use readymade baby food, pair it with something you are having yourself – peas, potato, cheese, chopped fruit or veg – the foods you want your child to be familiar with.

  • Don’t panic if your child is eating foods that you don’t serve at home. This is a natural progression as your child gets older. Get in touch if you would like to chat about it as I know it can be stressful.

Starting childcare is a big milestone! Your child will learn new things, make new friends and try new foods and you might get to grab some time for you!

We are available for 1:1 Consultations if you would like to discuss further.