A baby's first day in daycare is the most dangerous day in his young life. Here, experts offer their advice on how to ensure Baby's safety under someone else's care.
If you're planning to return to work after maternity leave, you may soon find yourself busily preparing for your child's first day of day care. Besides stocking up on baby supplies and packing a diaper bag, you'll also want to take some extra measures to keep your little one safe before you drop her off, since her first day away from you could be the most dangerous day in her young life.
Sixty percent of sudden infant deaths (SIDS) occur in family child care, taking place in a professional caregiver's home, 20 percent in child care centers and 20 percent in relative care. Approximately one-third of SIDS-related deaths in child care occur in the first week, and half of these take place on a child's first day, according to First Candle, a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping babies safe.
While these statistics may set off alarm bells, many of these deaths are largely preventable and are often due to a change in a baby's caregiver, an unfamiliar environment, or a fluctuation in the infant's schedule. "This is why it is so important to have as much consistency as possible from one caregiver to another," explains Laura Reno, program director of family support for First Candle.
Do your homework
When choosing your day care, be sure to meet with the staff who will be taking care of your child to discuss details. "Parents need to make sure that the provider/infant ratio is as small as possible," says Helen Gorlitsky, an OB/GYN in Moorestown, N.J. She advises parents to come armed with the right set of questions: How many babies are placed together and if any items, like blankets or toys, are placed in cribs (they should not be). Make sure all the necessary training has been completed on the part of the caregiver, including first aid, CPR and prenatal/infant care.
Easing your baby into a child care routine can be beneficial. "In an ideal situation, it's best to spend a few days of monitored time with the infant and caregiver together, prior to leaving them alone," says Jane Frederick, an OB/GYN in Orange County, Calif. "This will allow the parent to actively express and manage their needs for childcare."
Time to talk
Of course, sensitive topics such as SIDS prevention and the right way to place a child in a crib can be difficult to discuss, especially with people you may have just met. But, as Reno of First Candle notes, you shouldn't ever feel badly about discussing your child's safety and asking pointed questions. "It's critical to the baby's well-being, but also represents a change in what child care practices have been in previous generations," she says. "Don't hesitate to mention that the [national] Safe to Sleep campaign [encouraging parents and caregivers to have babies sleep on their backs] has resulted in nearly 60 percent SIDS prevention."
If your baby is being cared for in a traditional day care setting, consider popping in unannounced. Gorlitsky says that many day care places actually encourage surprise visits: "If it is a reputable center, they will be more than happy to have parents check on their child, especially in the beginning." Or, if possible, take advantage of the facility's remote video access or call and find out how your child is doing.
And if your baby is being cared for in your own home, consider setting up a video monitor in the more commonly used areas, such as the kitchen and a baby's nursery. Alternatively, schedule regular meetings with your caregiver to review how your child is faring and to ensure that they are following through on safe practices.