Surviving the First Year of Daycare: Tips for Dealing with Common Illnesses

For many parents who send their baby or toddler to daycare, it can be quite a stressful and emotional experience.

The teary drop-offs are hard enough, but with all the new germs and viruses that your little one is exposed to, it can feel like a never-ending cycle of your child getting sick and having to stay home, only to return and do it all again.

During the first year of daycare alone, it’s normal for a baby or toddler to contract six to 12 viruses. Common daycare illnesses include colds, flu, RSV, HFMD (Hand, foot, and mouth disease), gastroenteritis, middle ear infections, and croup.

It’s not only heartbreaking to see your child unwell so often, but it’s very inconvenient if you need to go to work, study, or have other commitments.

In this article, we explain why your little one is frequently unwell, how to protect them from illness, and when you should keep them home from daycare. With the right precautions and a little bit of patience, managing daycare in the first year can be a positive experience.

How to Manage Illness in the First Year of Daycare

Getting sick is a normal part of a child’s early development. Daycare staff make every reasonable effort to minimise the spread of illness, but it’s not possible to stop every little bug from making the rounds. This is for two reasons:

1. Your little one is more susceptible to picking up infections 

Up until your child starts daycare, they’ve probably spent a lot of time at home and not been in close contact with lots of people. That means that they haven’t yet been exposed to a variety of viruses, and therefore haven’t built up a good immunity to them.

2. It’s the perfect environment for germ sharing between children

To promote their healthy development and enjoyment, children are encouraged to play and explore their environment (and often that exploring happens with their mouth!), so it’s only natural that they’re going to be in close physical contact with infected children, adults, toys, surfaces, and through airborne illnesses via coughing and sneezing.

How to protect your child from the spread of daycare illness

As difficult and as frustrating as it is, there are two important things you can do to help manage your child’s daycare illnesses in the first year. The first thing you can do is boost your child’s immunity, and the second is help reduce the spread of illness. Here’s how you can do both:

Tips to help boost your child’s immunity

A baby’s or toddler’s immune system is still very underdeveloped, but you can help to build it by:

  1. Consider giving them a daily immune defence nutritional supplement. In particular, look for supplements containing a prebiotic similar to the one found in breastmilk (called a Human Milk Oligosaccharides or HMOs) and Vitamin D as it’s designed to support a child’s immune system, growth, and development. Vitamin D also assists in the absorption of calcium, supporting healthy teeth and bones.
  2. Breastfeed your child if possible as it greatly benefits their immune system and general health.
  3. Encourage your child to drink plenty of water to keep them hydrated.
  4. Provide them with a nutritious diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, dairy, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids from fish, seeds, and good quality grains. See a paediatric dietitian if you’re concerned about your little one’s diet.
  5. Supporting their gut health helps to build and maintain a healthy immune system. Offer foods with live cultures, such as yoghurt, kefir, and miso.
  6. Minimise highly processed foods that are packed with preservatives, additives, and other artificial ingredients, as they can be gut health disruptors.
  7. Ensure their immunisations are up to date according to the National Immunisation Program Schedule.
  8. Encourage enough rest and sleep on the days they aren’t at daycare.
  9. Provide plenty of opportunities to be active and mobile.
  10. Get them outdoors as much as possible to ensure they get plenty of fresh air and Vitamin D.
  11. Speak with your GP if you’re concerned about your child’s health or immunity.

Tips to reducing the spread of illness

Preventing your child from getting sick at all is unrealistic, but here are some basic steps to help reduce the chances:

  1. Good hygiene is essential. Hand washing is the number one way to avoid germs spreading. Wash your baby’s hands or teach your toddler how to wash them well.
  2. Speak to your daycare about their hygiene practices and infection control policies.
  3. Teach your toddler to use and then dispose of tissues, and ensure you wash your hands afterwards as well.
  4. Wash and change your child’s bedding and towels regularly if they’ve been unwell to avoid cross-contamination.
  5. Take care of your own health – eat well, drink plenty of water, keep regular sleep patterns and exercise regularly.
  6. Do not send your child to daycare if they’re unwell as viruses spread quickly.
  7. Consider other childcare options with fewer children, such as family daycare or a nanny, if your child is routinely unwell.

How to know when to keep them home from daycare

Before deciding whether to send your child to daycare or not, keep an eye on them for a few hours if they appear unwell, have a runny nose, reduced appetite, or low energy levels.

According to Health Direct, a child should be kept home if they have:

  • A fever (a temperature above 37.5 ℃)
  • Nausea with vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sore eyes with pus or mucus
  • Sore throat
  • Bad cough
  • Rash or skin sores, especially on the face, hands, and feet

It’s always best to see your child’s doctor if their symptoms don’t improve after a couple of days, or if you’re concerned about their health at all. Doing so might prevent an illness from getting worse, meaning that your child could be back at daycare sooner.