Prior to returning to work this week I had a week to smooth the transition for my 8 month old baby into crèche.
I had steeled myself for major disruptions to sleep patterns, and the stress of a tearful few days, but my little super trooper was a star. She didn't cry when I left, and I only saw one little wobbly lip. I, on the other hand, was a bit more of a mess.
So here are my top tips to make the transition easier:
1. Start looking early
To make sure you get a crèche you feel comfortable you may have to reserve a place well in advance. The high carer to baby ratio means many crèches don't take many babies so places fill up fast. I had to put her name down when I was pregnant, even though I didn't actually have a name picked yet.
2. Pick one with low staff turnover
I found it really helped that I was consistently talking to the same staff members who would be looking after my baby.
3. Go visit a few months before d-day
No-one wants to start thinking about the end of maternity leave, but I found it helped to talk to them and find out about their daily routines a few months in advance. This meant I could make changes gradually to align to them, so it wasn't such a shock. For example, when I started weaning I could time meal times to match what they would eventually be in crèche.
At that point, I was also really worried about my baby's ability to nap without me rocking her to sleep, and the fact she still refused milk from a bottle. They were very good at putting my mind at ease and gave me other examples of babies they had before and how they dealt with similar situations.
4. Increase hours gradually
If you can afford to it's worth taking an extra week off work to have an induction week. Our schedule was:
- Day 1 - 1 hr visit with me there
- Day 2 - 2 hrs on her own
- Day 3 - 2 hrs
- Day 4 - 4 hrs including nap and lunch
- Day 5 - 6 hrs with 2 naps and meals
5. Take something familiar
I took a spare sleeping bag and her favourite comforter, so when it came to naptime she had something familiar with her. If you can get a duplicate of their favourite comforter and put it in rotation so it gets the right feel and smell. That way you can leave one in the crèche. I didn't do that so I'm carrying a well sucked fluffy square back and forth every day. It's only a matter of time until I forget and find it still in my pocket at work.
6. Plan your exit
I found it really hard to actually walk out the door, the staff had to practically push me out. The first day my baby didn't see me leave, so I was worried about how she might have reacted when she realised I'd gone, although apparently, she was fine. The second day she watched me leave, which was tough for me in the moment, but I knew she hadn't cried so longer term I think I preferred it.
7. Keep busy
There's nothing more likely to bring on the tears than sitting at home reminiscing - everything reminds you of your absent baby. I found the best way not to get upset was to keep busy. The first day I tried on all my work clothes. The second day I cleaned the house. The third day I had planned to work on my blog, but I couldn't concentrate and was missing my baby loads, so for me manual tasks that don't require thinking are the best distraction.
Remember it's ok to be upset. Have a cry if you need to. It's better to get it out the way this week, rather than in work, although that's ok too.
9. Slow down
Although it's good to be busy, don't plan too much. I found I was still bolting down my lunch ready to spring into action to look after her. It was nice to take my time with lunch and not eat like a champion speed eater, so enjoy some slow moments.
Her nap times might also be disrupted, so nighttime sleep might be a bit haywire. My baby got a bit of a cold (the nursery germ curse) so had a few restless nights that required extra cuddles, and I was glad I hadn't planned to do too much.
10. Spend time apart
When my baby went to crèche I worked out I had only been outside the house without her for about 10 hours in total in 8 months. It felt so odd, like I'd forgotten something but didn't know what. I would see a pram and my heart would skip as for a moment I would wonder where I'd left my baby. I'm the one with separation anxiety instead of her. So even if it's only going out for a short walk it can help to practice being apart.
11. Be ready to be disappointed
On the first day I was so looking forward to seeing her big smile when she saw me again, like daddy gets when he comes home. Instead when I walked in I got a little lip wobble. The second day she ignored me and looked everywhere but me. I have to admit it upset me a bit, but within a few minutes of cuddles and tickles she was back to normal with me and I was forgiven.
12. Focus on the positives
If you're feeling down think of all the new toys she is probably playing with, and the great social skills she is learning playing with her new baby companions. Remind yourself of all the good reasons you have for going back to work, and plan some fun things you can do as a family at the weekend.
Ask the crèche if they can send you photo updates. My crèche uses an app to securely send photos, so even though we were only apart a few hours it really cheered me up seeing her little smiley face so I knew she was happy.
So that's it...my tips for making crèche induction less stressful. I know I'm lucky my little girl is good with strange people, and I'm so proud of her right now. I know there's going to be some days tougher than others, but fingers crossed she keeps smiling, and I'll muddle through missing her.