We got the experts to answer some of the usual burning questions that one always has when starting infant care.
Why should I pay so much for infant care when I can hire a babysitter? It’s just diaper duty anyway.
Many people mistake infant care for a baby-sitting service that provides routine care like diapering and feeding, and think it’s handled by nannies without much training, says Jamie Loh, principal of Learning Vision @ Kent Ridge infant and childcare centre. In reality, the Government requires infant caregivers to be certified in infant and toddler care, be trained in first aid and have at least two years’ experience in a childcare or pre-school setting.
Routine baby-care procedures are governed by each centre’s standards and evaluated regularly, adds Lim Chong Peng, director at Rosy Hearts infant and childcare centre. There is accountability, checks as well as support among the staff, compared to a babysitter who’s alone.
What if my baby doesn’t get enough attention?
You may think the staff are uncaring if you happen to see a baby crying, but this is how very young children express their needs, Jamie explains. The staff are trained to identify cries and respond accordingly. Situations where babies are left out won’t happen in centres which are properly managed, and where the centre managers are very involved in the operations and well-being of their staff and children, says Chong Peng. In fact, a key advantage of infant care is the lively and dynamic learning environment, both experts emphasise. He’ll enjoy appropriate stimulation, which is important for his cognitive development. Music classes, storytelling and playtime help boost his language development and provide opportunities for interaction with his peers. He’ll learn to care and share and be more sociable.
Some parents also worry that their child may get hungry during the day, Jamie notes, but they can rest assured that good centres have regular feeding schedules and routines.
What happens in a typical day?
First up, breakfast. Babies below six months are fed milk by the staff, while older infants get to enjoy fruit and cereal. After the meal, infants below six months are involved in activities that hone their reflex muscles. Infants aged 7-12 months and 13-17 months participate in similar activities pitched at age-appropriate levels. These consist of activities that promote gross and fi ne motor skills, music, language, play and social skills. At midday, after lunch and a shower, the little ones engage in reading and music activities before taking a nap. When they wake up, it’s time for group activities such as arts and crafts. Younger babies will use this time to exercise and crawl on their tummies to develop the strength to sit and walk.
How do I boost baby’s immunity? I’ve been told that those in infant care fall sick more easily than those who stay home
This is true to some extent, says Dr Chan Poh Chong, a senior consultant with the Division of General Ambulatory Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the National University Hospital. Young children can catch infections easily because of the constant exposure to fluids and secretions (which may contain viruses) in a confined space. Till around six months of age, your newborn is protected by antibodies from you (before birth) to fend off infections. So it’s best that you continue to breastfeed him beyond that age. Your milk contains immuno-protective substances that help boost his immunity, Dr Chan adds. When visiting a potential centre, observe the staff at work, from how milk or food is prepared, to the feeding process and the cleaning up after each meal, he says. Also, pay attention to the diaper changing practice and the handling of urine and poop spillages. (Did the educarer wash her hands with soap thoroughly?) Learning Vision, for instance, sanitises its equipment regularly, and uses air filters to ensure clean air is being circulated, Jamie says.
Also, find out how the centre deals with babies who are unwell or who fall sick during the day – is there a separate room for them, at least? Good nutrition and regular evaluation of practices also play an important part in keeping tots healthy, adds Chong Peng.
When should I start my search?
Give yourself a window of at least six months before you return to work. Shortlist centres near your home or office and attend their open houses or ask to visit, suggests Jamie. This will give you a better understanding of the type of programmes available, so you can make an informed decision. As soon as you find one you’re comfortable with, secure a place, says Chong Peng. This is especially so if the centre is a popular one or is located in an area with high demand.
What are the factors to consider?
That depends on what you want to get out of infant care. Some parents prefer personal care from small centres; others like those from larger establishments. They may even choose the most convenient location, without much thought about the quality of care. “There are also those who believe in giving their child only the best care; they are the ones who are willing to travel,” Chong Peng points out. Find out more by talking to parents when they pick up their kids at your shortlisted centres. “You should feel 100% at ease and comfortable with those taking care of your young child,” adds Jamie. “It is important that the staff come across as approachable during your visits.” Make sure that you will receive daily reports about your baby’s activities and that you can drop in at any time to see him. The teachers should be open to meeting you on a regular basis to monitor his progress. Do consider the centre’s curriculum and philosophy, as well. Find one that appeals to you and that you are comfortable with. Centres that offer research-based curricula, foster confidence, self-esteem and engage parents in their infant’s learning should be on your radar, suggests Jamie.
I’m feeling nervous about handing baby over to strangers. How can I ease the separation anxiety?
Your emotions can directly affect your little one, so it’s vital to rein in your anxiety and make sure you send him off in a happy mood. Tell yourself that infant care will benefit him, suggests Jamie. Chong Peng adds that you must feel comfortable with the people who will be taking care of your baby, so ask as many questions as you want until you have peace of mind.
Follow these suggestions to ease the transition:
1 MONTH BEFORE – It’s time to introduce bottle-feeding if you’ve not done so. Offer him milk in a bottle at least once a day. Prepare the items needed. You can usually get a comprehensive list from the centre, but do also check your e-mails regularly to see if there are additional information or updates.
DAY BEFORE – Do a final check to see that you’ve packed everything, especially his milk (whether expressed breast milk or formula) and that all items are labelled to prevent loss or confusion.
ON THE BIG DAY – While the infant educarers settle Junior in, plan a short activity to keep your nerves at bay. If he’s eight months or older, plan to stay for half a day as you and your child get to know the staff better and familiarise them with his routine. Get to know at least one or two educarers by name so that you can speak directly to someone the next time or address concerns easily.
1 WEEK AFTER – Pat yourself on the back and smile: you and Baby have survived a week! Check with his educarer regularly to monitor his progress in the next few months.
By Elisa Chia, Young Parents, February 2014