Best Age To Start Daycare – When Should My Baby Start?

Statistics on childcare trends in the US show that almost 4 out of 10 children are exclusively cared for at home by parents. The remaining six in the statistics are in home-based childcare settings, in childcare centers, or are in a mix of home-based, parent, and center care.

To distinguish, parent primary care is when the child is cared for at home with one or both parents. Home-based childcare is done by a paid or unpaid childcare provider at home who may or may not have a familial relationship with the child. Center care, on the other hand, is an institution that childcare services for parents.

In this article, we’ll explore more about childcare that is not exclusively done by parents and involves several children under a paid carer or more commonly called as daycare or center care as mentioned above.

Factors that affect starting daycare

In an ideal set-up, infants and toddlers benefit the most when consistently cared for at home by parents. However, this may not always be possible for practical reasons.

There are several factors that come into play when considering starting daycare. These are as follows:

  • Duration of maternity leave. Many working mothers in the US only have about six weeks of maternity leave. Some may not be entitled to maternity leave at all and risk losing their jobs.
  • Parental leave for fathers. Parental leave for fathers greatly depends on the industry they work in. The availability of parental leave for fathers may help extend parent-primary care for a child.
  • Financial status of the family. If both parents have to work so sustain the family, it is imperative that appropriate childcare is secured.
  • Availability of other childcare options such as relatives. Sometimes, extended family such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles, or even close and trusted neighbors who know the family may be available as options for childcare.

When neither parent is available, and no extended family or close relations can help out, the option of daycare comes into play. This is an especially important consideration to make if the child is still an infant.

Most daycare facilities are not equipped and therefore do not take in babies less than six weeks of age, premature, or have special needs.

If parental care is available, daycare could be an option later on as the child matures. In such scenarios, it is best to gauge the child’s readiness for unfamiliar situations and his tolerance towards crowds and multiple stimuli.

Benefits of starting daycare

If timed correctly according to your child’s readiness, daycare can have several wonderful benefits for your child including:

  • Socialization with kids their age and teachers can give them valuable social skills which they can use later on in life.
  • Your child will learn how to share, how to cooperate with a group of children, and how to interact with other adults as well.
  • They can make friends early on and feel less lonely, especially for an only-child.
  • Helps develop and stronger immune system. They may get sick every once in a while as they start daycare, but they are developing natural immunity in the process and therefore will have fewer sick days later on in life.
  • Your child will become more familiar with school setting and therefore be more prepared for big-kid school activities once they hit school-age.
  • Parents will have a couple of hours of free time to attend to adult stuff such as errands, work, hobbies, and even meeting up with friends.

Risks of starting daycare too soon

Risks of starting daycare too soon

That being said, if you do start daycare too soon and your child is not fully ready for it, it may have certain risks and repercussions for your child and your family.

  • If your child is too young, they may easily get stressed out in daycare. The younger a child is, the harder it will be for them.
  • A toddler may feel overwhelmed easily and will display behaviors such as lashing out, hitting, throwing tantrums.
  • On the flip side, they may become so withdrawn and shy while feeling so stressed out deep inside.
  • The child may regress, hit their siblings, have nightmares, get more clingy, or whine more.

As you can see, starting daycare when your child is clearly not ready creates a lot of stress and tension for them. They can easily show in behavioral changes. Even if the behavioral change is not that big, your child may experience an increased heart rate and very high stress hormone levels throughout the ordeal.

So why is daycare so stressful for young kids?

Children at the age of two or younger are not that adept in communicating their feelings and needs. As a mom, you might know when your toddler is hungry, tired, or bored because you are familiar with their cues. A daycare provider who is a stranger to your child will not know exactly when your child needs something.

When cared for by a parent in their own home, the toddler feels comfortable and confident that his needs will be responded to and met. This promotes a feeling of safety so your toddler can focus more on learning and exploring, knowing that you are there to make sure he has all that he needs.

On the other hand, in a daycare situation, a provider usually will handle six children all at once. This may put your toddler in survival mode since he knows that the carer’s attention is divided into six. He knows that his needs might or might not be met depending on how busy the provider gets.

This puts the toddler’s focus and energy more on surviving and getting what he needs rather than exploring and developing.

How do I know if my child is ready for daycare?

  • Your child is independent and can entertain himself for a period of time. Daycare providers will have divided attention between several children, so this is important.
  • You have spent some time away from your child before. You can gradually increase your time away as your little one gets comfortable.
  • Your child enjoys the company of other kids and loves being around other people.
  • You’ve had successful play-dates with other moms and kids.
  • Your child loves to run around, play, and does not mind having multiple activities in sequence.
  • Your child can follow simple directions.
  • He or she can sit still for a couple of minutes or at least sit through one song.
  • He or she is potty trained (this may depend on the type of daycare you choose)
  • Can they communicate enough? They don’t need to be amazingly articulate, but they should at least know how to say what they need.
  • Your child does not have developmental issues. (depends on the daycare provider)
  • Your child does not have sensory issues. (also depends on the daycare provider)
  • Your child’s age matches the age of majority of the daycare attendees.

When should I hold back?

  • If your child does not show any signs of readiness stated above, or shows a few but not consistently.
  • If you have a lot of fear and doubt about sending your child to daycare.
  • When your toddler resists going.
  • At the first few tries, if your toddler bursts in tears as you pick them up, it may be a sign that she was holding it all in while you were away.
  • At the signs of behavioral change such as regressions, aggression, sleep disturbance, or becoming withdrawn.
  • If your child is less than two years old (if you do not have a choice because you need to work, try seeking help from a trusted relative or considering home-based daycare where there are fewer children and the home setting is more familiar)

What to look for in a good daycare provider

What to look for in a good daycare
  • Daycare license. Your daycare provider should be licensed to provide the services that they do. This ensures that they have met all the minimum requirements to operate a daycare. It also means that they are regularly monitored to check for state compliance regarding health and safety regulations.
  • Staff qualifications. Daycare staff may not need special qualifications in order to work. However, you would want to check in anyways. Some daycare providers only employ staff who have the right skills to handle children such as licensed caregivers, nursing aides, teachers, or specialists in early childhood development.
  • Staff ratios. You want the staff to not be so overwhelmed by too many children that they could overlook your child while in their care. A good staff ratio puts fewer children in the hands of each member. Four to six is usually the average. Any more than six and your staff member is already swamped.
  • Cleanliness. Younger children are more susceptible to catching sickness because of their underdeveloped immune systems. Request a tour of the facility to check for any cleanliness issues before you make a decision.
  • Safety. Your child’s safety is probably your utmost concern as you leave them. During your tour of the facility, try to check if the place is safe enough for your child to spend the day in.


Technically speaking, the earliest you can send your child to day care is at least after their first birthday. While some daycare facilities may accommodate younger babies, it is simply too risky at this age. Try to look into alternatives like home care or a nanny at least until your baby is old enough to go to daycare.

Toddlers between one and three generally tolerate daycare in varying degrees, depending on their temperament, so watch your child closely. It is also not advisable that they spend entire days in daycare at this stage. A half-day arrangement is more ideal.

What is important is that you listen to your child and observe the cues in their behavior. If they appreciate the time with other kids, you’re in luck. But if not, you might have to wait it out for a few more months.

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Vanessa is a freelance writer and a two-time certified boy mom to a toddler and a preschooler. She believes that raising happy kids is a delicate balance between doing your best as a parent and seeking help when you need it.

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