As a parent, the decision to place your child in daycare can be a really difficult one. Often, it's a necessity, especially when grandparents or family members are unavailable to provide care. This is a common experience among most parents in urban India, who have to return to work after their maternity/paternity leave.
Starting daycare is a significant milestone in your baby's life, as you introduce them to new experiences and routines. Among the challenges your little one may face, adjusting to their new eating habits and appetites can be one of the most challenging. It’s typical for this time of life to cause stress in moms, especially working moms who are dealing with their own emotions, returning to work after a long period, missing their little one, and juggling more responsibilities. Know you are not alone!
Today, we will explore the common issues babies encounter when transitioning to daycare and offer practical tips to make this transition as smooth as possible for both you and your baby.
First, Let’s Understand the Transition
When babies begin daycare, they are thrust into a new environment with new social interactions and learning experiences. Naturally, this can cause anxiety, unrest, fussiness, or confusion in babies. This period of adjustment will affect what they eat or how much they eat when they’re at daycare.
All babies are different, and the pace at which they adapt also will be. So just be patient, loving, and have faith that your baby will get used to the new place and new people around him/her.
When Babies Eat at Daycare
Eating at daycare or a childcare arrangement has many numerous benefits. Most daycares offer well-structured mealtime routines that help babies adjust to their new surroundings.
Additionally, the presence of other children can provide peer modeling, encouraging your child to mimic their behavior.
7 Simple Tips for a Smooth Transition
Here is some guidance for when you’re transitioning your baby from eating at home to eating at the daycare:
1) Do a gradual introduction: Before your baby starts daycare full-time, consider arranging short visits (1-2 hours per day) to the daycare. This way, your child can become familiar with the new environment and faces. When your baby starts daycare full time, it will be less of a culture shock so to speak.
You can also use this opportunity to build a comfortable rapport with the caregivers or managers at the daycare, so you can convey your baby’s needs and habits to them in the future.
2) Establish a routine: Babies thrive on routine and structure! As much as possible, try to align your baby’s mealtime and naptime routines at home and at daycare. This means, if they eat at a certain time at home, ensure they eat at the same time in daycare. This will also help babies feel less unsettled.
3) Increase familiarity with food or introduce more variety at home: Try to introduce your baby to the foods that will be served at daycare while your baby and you are at home. This way, your baby will be more accepting of the food served in daycare. If it’s a food they have never seen or tasted before, chances are they may not be able to handle it easily.
Alternatively, ensure your baby can have a variety of foods, flavors, and textures at home to reduce surprises at daycare.
4) Provide bottled feed: Ensure you provide breast milk or formula bottles to the daycare caregivers along with instructions for the set routine, so your baby’s feeding times are almost the same at home and daycare.
5) Communicate with caregivers: Share your baby's preferences, any food allergies, and specific do's and don'ts with the daycare caregivers.
6) Stay calm and positive: Babies can sense their parents’ emotions and more so the stress or anxiety. Don’t forget to have a positive, reassuring, and joyful attitude during drop-offs and pick-ups. Your baby will feed off your energy, and this will set them up for the rest of their time spent in daycare.
7) Avoid putting any pressure: Never pressure or force your baby to eat at home or at daycare. Babies are intuitive eaters and will regulate their hunger cues naturally.
Even if you follow these tips, there may still be times when your baby does not eat at the daycare. There could be various reasons for it, which we will look at next.
Common Reasons Why Babies Don’t Eat at Daycare
1) Separation anxiety: It's completely natural for babies (and moms) to experience separation anxiety when they start daycare. Up until this point, your baby has been accustomed to your constant presence, and you’ve showered them with attention and love.
The prospect of being away from parents and interacting with new faces can be overwhelming for little ones initially. Remember, this phase is a part of your baby's learning journey. Instead of feeling worried or guilty, be gentle with yourself.
Remember that this is a temporary phase, and with time, compassion, and patience, both you and your baby will adjust to this new chapter in your lives.
2) Distractions: During the initial weeks at daycare, babies can be easily distracted or overstimulated. In their new environment, they encounter bright lights, unfamiliar sounds, toys, new faces, and various noises.
They may get engrossed or lost in exploring their surroundings, playing with toys, and interacting with other babies. As a result, their attention may become divided, leading to a drop in their appetite.
3) New environment: Primarily, babies are accustomed to the cozy familiarity of their home environment and their usual mealtime setting. When this familiar routine shifts due to the introduction of daycare, it can trigger anxiety in babies.
This emotional distress can manifest as fussiness during mealtimes, potentially affecting their eating habits and their sense of hunger.
4) Unknown foods: Exposure to new foods and a different feeding method can be intimidating for babies.
5) Large portions: Regardless of whether your baby is eating at home or daycare, ensure you serve them small portions of food; seeing large portions can be overwhelming for them as they’re getting used to solid food. Convey this to the daycare as well. Specify what works best for your little one.
6) Pressure to eat: The expectations that parents have from daycare caregivers or managers is to keep them posted about their baby’s day. “How much did they eat? What did they eat? When did they sleep?” – are common questions parents ask. But not all caregivers may be trained or have the capacity to do “responsive feeding,” especially when caring for multiple babies with diverse preferences and routines.
This pressure can also influence a baby's eating habits. Babies have naturally fluctuating appetites, so it’s good if caregivers adopt a consistent and responsive approach to mealtimes. The goal is to ensure that whoever is feeding your baby is as attuned to their needs as possible.
7) Illness: When babies start daycare, they tend to fall ill as they come into contact with other babies and external germs at the daycare. This is common. If your baby is under the weather, they may eat less or not at all.
What You Can Do If Your Baby Isn't Eating at Daycare
To address these challenges, parents can consider the following:
1) Align their schedules: As mentioned above as well, try to match the daycare schedule with the routine at home to ensure consistency in eating and napping times
2) Expose them to a variety: We cannot emphasize this enough. When you offer various foods to your baby during mealtimes at home, they will be mentally prepared for different foods at daycare.
3) Do short visits beforehand: As suggested earlier, consider arranging shorter, introductory visits to daycare to help your baby acclimate to this new environment. During these visits, continue to feed your baby at home before bringing them to daycare and allowing them to participate in mealtime activities there.
By ensuring your baby has already been fed at home, you reduce the pressure on them to eat during daycare meals. But also these visits offer opportunities for your baby to observe how food is served, become familiar with the daycare mealtime routine, interact with caregivers, and gradually adapt to mealtimes when they start daycare full time.
4) Be present at mealtimes: If it's possible, consider being physically present during your baby's mealtimes at daycare in the initial days. Your presence during these times can have a significant impact on your baby's response to food.
Seeing a familiar and loving face can provide immense comfort to your little one, which can be a strong encouragement. Over time, as your baby grows accustomed to the new setting, gradually reduce your visits until they are fully eased into their daycare routine.
5) Monitor the snacking: Check what snacks the daycare provides. Sometimes, extra snacking may impact your baby’s appetite for actual food.
6) Don’t be disheartened: Do not give up too quickly. Babies, just like all learners, need multiple exposures and plenty of opportunities to adapt and grow. As a parent, patience is your most valuable asset.
Anticipate a rough start; young babies may take around 4-6 weeks to adjust to a new environment. Stay flexible and maintain a patient approach as your baby navigates this transition period.
7) Seek professional help: If the issue persists after several months, consult a pediatrician or feeding therapist for guidance and solutions. It can be worked out, so don’t worry.
Transitioning your baby to daycare and adapting to a new mealtime setting can be challenging, but with patience and understanding, you can help your child navigate this important milestone successfully. Remember, every baby is unique, so trust your instincts and be kind to yourself and your little one during this transition.