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Infant Child Care: How Early Is Too Early?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Child care centers do not accept babies younger than six weeks. Does that mean that it’s okay to place your baby in child care at age six weeks?

Well, what is meant by “okay”? Okay means “acceptable” but it doesn’t mean “ideal.” In an ideal situation your baby spends his time during the day with an attentive, caring and intellectually stimulating adult, and with the same adult every day.

Certainly, this ideal situation can happen at home with loving and attentive parents who are not stressed financially, have many social supports, and are content with being full-time caregivers to their children. If this describes you and your situation, then do stay home with your baby. Babies do not need child care. Your child will not miss anything (at least not until age three or four, when children benefit from some sort of group situation away from home).

Here are some infant facts:
•   Babies hear their parents’ voices even before they are born and they can recognize your voice immediately after birth.
•   Babies as young as three days recognize their mothers by smell (and mothers also can recognize their babies by smell even though they might not be aware of doing it).
•   Babies as young as six weeks recognize their mothers on sight and express excitement to see them. Fathers and other family members are recognized too.
•   Babies as young as six months can become depressed when they are separated too long from their families. Depressed babies don’t gain weight and are slow to learn.

At any age, your child will notice that you’re missing. Keep that in mind when you settle on an age to begin childcare.

However, in most families today, the ideal situation combines parental care with care outside the home. Some families need two incomes to get by. For many parents, being home alone with an infant is socially isolating, especially in neighborhoods where no one else is staying home. And for some parents, being home all day makes them crazy. They just can’t handle the caregiving role on a full-time basis. The ideal situation is found in a stable child care environment, where a caregiver can provide the developmental support a baby needs.

So back to the six weeks. The longer you can keep your infant home with you, the better. Six weeks is okay, but 10 weeks is better and 12 weeks is better still. The older your infant is, the more established are feeding routines and the bond between you. The longer you can stay at home together, the better for your child.

Six weeks is okay but not ideal.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.