After years of caring for children in my home, I’ve found some things I just need for caring for infants. I’m not big on using a lot of equipment with babies or buying a lot of things, but some items are necessary for the care of infants and for health and safety purposes. Of course, babies have different needs than older children. Here’s my list of must haves for caring for infants in child care and an explanation of why:
White Noise Sound Machine
White noise soothes babies and helps them fall asleep. It prevents disturbing noises in the house from waking up the baby. The machine is small, doesn’t create a cool wind like a fan, and can be easily moved from room to room or taken along when traveling. Anything that makes babies sleep better is a win! I’ve been using my Marpac White Noise Machine for several years now and babies and older children are soothed by it. It’s great when adults can’t sleep too so it stays in our guest room.
The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight
If you’ve cared for babies, you know how challenging sleep issues can be. It’s hard enough to figure out the cues from your own baby but each one is different. Babies are on a constantly evolving developmental continuum. Each stage or phase can last just weeks, affecting sleep. Sleep is important to us all, but especially infants. When an infant can not get to sleep, stay asleep or sleep is disrupted, not only is the infant affected but everyone else is too. This guide has been invaluable to me, as a provider. It is divided up into sections based on age. So if an infant is 3 months old, I can look up to see what is developmentally appropriate for a baby that age sleep-wise. It gives suggestions on tweaking schedules, what to do if’s, and straight talk on sleep training. I love this book! Every parent and caregiver should have it. It’s definitely one of my top Must-Haves for Caring for Infants in Child Care.
A video monitor can give you some peace of mind. If you are a family child care provider, you’re probably caring for children of various ages. Everyone is doing something different. There’s a lot going on and a lot of demands. Licensing regulations may require you to check on infants sleeping every 10-15 minutes. Some may allow you to use a visual check via a video monitor, some may not so check your regulations.
A good supply of crib sheets is necessary. One or two won’t do if a baby has a leaky diaper or spits up because there’s not enough time to wash sheets during the day. So have enough crib sheets on hand. I use a Pack & Play type portable crib for my infants so I use Graco fitted crib sheets. Crib sheets must be tight fitting. You may want to use sheet clips to keep the sheets tight and from sleeping off the corners. We know loose-fitting bedding can be dangerous for sleeping infants.
Washable Changing Table Surface
Child care centers must have a dedicated place for diaper changing, a surface that can be cleaned and disinfected. I use a changing table pad like this, with raised edges. You may find the surface fabric doesn’t hold up to lots of use. I bought a piece of vinyl at the fabric store and recovered my changing table pad. If it becomes yellowed from cleaning, I recover it. The vinyl is heavy-duty enough that it doesn’t rip. This type of changing pad is also portable if you need to change diapers on the floor. Again, check your state’s regulations. In the diaper changing area, you also need a step can diaper pail. The fewer items you touch while diaper changing the better to reduce the spread of germs.
Low Profile Infant Chair with Tray
After using big bulky high chairs and booster chairs on my dining furniture, I’ve found these low chairs perfect for feeding little ones! It’s important to use child-sized furniture that’s developmentally appropriate. These low profile chairs allow small children to be at the same level as older children sitting at child-sized tables. Older ones can walk over and sit down themselves. The chair is low and stable so tipping over isn’t an issue. The trays are large and have a raised edge to contain spills. The whole chair is easy to clean – no more fabric or vinyl covers that hold food and sticky messes. I love that they take up very little space to store when not in use. Toddlers love their special chairs!
Cloth Diapers for Spit Up Towels
I’ve always liked to use cloth diapers for burp cloths for infants in child care. They are soft and absorbent. If needed they can be bleached. Parents will sometimes supply cloths, but I prefer to have my own stash. Then I know I have one when I need it and confident it’s clean. If a parent brings one along, then they can leave at the end of the day with a clean cloth. If you have multiple infants in care, you can add a colored trim or tag by sewing a zig zag stitch around the edge. A dot with a fabric marker could accomplish the same thing. Use one color for each infant. Or have many on hand to use a clean one each feeding.
Muslin Swaddle Blankets
I like to hold babies with a blanket. It keeps them from being chilled even in the air conditioning, the sun off of their delicate skin if we’re outdoors and a barrier between the baby and I if it’s warm. Muslin swaddle blankets are perfect for spreading out on the floor to lay the baby down for floor time. They can be used to cover them in the bouncy seat or swing. I wish these were popular when my baby was an infant!
Babies need to be held a lot. They must be held during feedings, to calm and comfort them, for interaction and bonding critical to their development. Then there are times, they must be put down. It’s good for a baby to know you are nearby not he’s okay even if you’re not holding him. In the child care setting, a baby needs a safe place to be put down while you’re attending to the needs of others or making a meal. A bouncy seat can be a lifesaver. I like the simple curved seat and minimal toys. Baby can sit up and see what’s happening around the room. Vibration and sound can soothe baby and entertain. Be sure to use the safety straps. Always move the baby to the crib if he or she falls asleep. Babies should always be put on their back to sleep in a crib to reduce the risk of SIDS and promote good sleep habits. Give babies lots of time on the floor so they can work on developmental milestones such as rolling. Keeping infants in swings, seats, and beds limit normal gross motor development.
Safety must come first when caring for infants, especially during sleep. Swaddling is effective in helping babies to nap but more and more,, it’s considered best practice to NOT swaddle. Sleep sacks can be a great alternative to blankets in child care. It reduces the risk of SIDS, since blankets can not be pulled up over the babies face. The sleeper bag keeps baby warm and feeling safe. You should discuss with the parents how the baby will nap before starting child care. Stress your concern for the baby’s safety and your desire to meet licensing regulations that are designed for the safety of children.