Are babies immune to claustrophobia after 9 months in the womb?
August 23, 2012 6:49 PM   Subscribe

How do I choose between a day care that is logistically superior but in a depressing basement and a snazzy day care that has better facilities but is more inconvenient? Both take good care of babies.

I had a plan for upcoming offspring's day care:

* send them to the church day care across the street from work for infant care
reasons: this is kiddo #1 so I want to be nearby, I can pop in to breastfeed (they send text messages), simple commute, super easy to bring them to the doctor for well baby visits (I work at a medical center), babies are too little to be brainwashed about Jesus, colleagues at work have babies there and like it

* then send them to an awesome Spanish-immersion day care in my neighborhood once they're ready for the toddler room
reasons: the food is amazing (organic, all cooked on site, I would love them to be my personal chefs), the increased cost of this day care is easily absorbed since their toddler price is equivalent of infant care at the other facility, toddlers can say words and thus get more benefit from language immersion

But today I visited the church day care by work, and it was in a super-depressing basement. The care seemed good for the infants, and my on paper reasons for wanting to pick it are still valid. But I can't shake the feeling of all the kids being trapped in a depressing church basement without natural light. It smelled like a musty basement, too, but that could just be amplified by my current ultra-sensitive pregnancy nose. There's a small outdoor play area, but it's only used by the older kids. In comparison, the neighborhood Spanish immersion school is above ground with many windows and is a much fancier place (decoration, equipment, and food-wise). It's also $65 more per week. But I wouldn't be able to drop in during the day.

Do babies notice depressing basements, or is this all my mental issue? Or is this one of those gut feelings that I should pay attention to? What should I do? I'm checking out a couple more day care centers next week to compare, but they can't beat the logistics of infant day care near work.
posted by Maarika to Human Relations (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I went to a similar church basement preschool when I was preschool age (3-4). I can remember a lot about that place, down to really detailed memories of my cubby, what the tables felt like, etc. but it honestly never occurred to me that it was even in a basement. What I really remember is my wonderful teachers. I'd imagine that your little one is going to remember that most too. Whether s/he is loved and cared for.

From the logistical standpoint, all of your reasons for wanting to have the daycare closer to work are really, really solid. We chose something close to our house so our kiddo wouldn't have to be in the car for a long time at the end of the day, but man it was hard being so far when he was an infant and it continues to be kind of a pain when we have doctor's or dentist's appointments now.

If you feel comfortable with the folks close to your work, it sounds like a really good option.
posted by goggie at 6:58 PM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

We started West out in a depressing not-basement-but-might-have-well-been environment at a daycare that seemed to have been converted from an old garage/machine shop/horse re-shoeing business. He was a baby and as he didn't get out much, did not seem to mind. This place was a godsend in that the wait list for the daycare we wanted was longer than expected.

Anyways, he did not seem to mind spending his days in the baby room. Really, at a young age, it doesn't matter so much. I assume your church daycare has a yard of some sort they venture out to? He'll be fine.

But! Once we got into the daycare we wanted, we found West's development skyrocketing. It wasn't the increased sunlight, so much as he was now in an infant/toddler room rather than a room of just babies. He was crawling and walking and talking so fast.

So as you look at your other options, look at at how they handle babies vs toddlers. You can, I think, get away with a Just Babies room for awhile, but you'll want your little one exposed to 'bigger' kids sooner rather than later.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:59 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Environment matters. It matterrs most early. All else being equal, take the more stimulating environment.
posted by trinity8-director at 7:02 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The basement doesn't worry me, but the mustiness does. If they have a mold problem, that's not healthy.

Otherwise, the basement wouldn't faze me at all. Being able to pop in, and having it be close to work--both of these are sanity savers.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:03 PM on August 23, 2012 [12 favorites]

Where would you want to spend your day? Why would it be any different for the fast growing, remarkably aware, perceptive, hearing, seeing, feeling, little love-of-your-life?
posted by ecorrocio at 7:12 PM on August 23, 2012

I think it is important to think about whether or not YOU will be stressed having the baby in the depressing basement, whether or not it's rational (I don't think it's irrational). Like, every time you go there will you feel depressed, and will you feel bad about leaving the baby in a place you think is depressing? That place sounds logistically fantastic, but is it going to be worth it if you fret about it whenever you think about the baby being over there, or if you get bummed every time you drop the baby off?

I am sure either way, your baby will be fine and happy -- they do take them outside sometimes, at the church, right? -- if the people at the church basement are good at their jobs, but it might be worthwhile to you to weigh if this is going to bum you out on a multiple-times-a-day basis.

But I can't shake the feeling of all the kids being trapped in a depressing church basement without natural light.

If you can't shake this feeling every day, that is going to suck for you. You want to be able to leave your baby somewhere that you are happy imagining him or her being all day.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 7:15 PM on August 23, 2012

I wouldn't have a baby in a musty environment, basement or not.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:17 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I remember going to daycare when I was two. I remember that the walls were an orange brown color, that the sink was dirty, that the babies (which included me) were kept in the back half of a long room without many windows, and that the older kids (who were kept in the front part of the room up where the front windows were) got to play with the better toys. I remember hating it.

I know this because I brought it up out of the blue to my parents when I was about ten, saying, "hey, what was that daycare you took me to? It really sucked," and described it in detail, my parents' jaws dropped to the floor. I only spent about 10 days there.

You can do with that anecdote what you will...just know that this toddler remembered her environment vividly, and that it didn't take much time to sink in.
posted by phunniemee at 7:24 PM on August 23, 2012

i'd say go into the logistically good one. you can pop in to breastfeed? that's pretty cool, right? how long are they actually there for? like all day? how much more rested, and how much money will you be able to save for later on if you choose the closer one? i say choose the closer one for now.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:27 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

So, it depends on the kid. My son (and his brother before him) were watched by my MIL in our basement, but it wasn't musty and had light, but not tons of light. I would have loved to pop in on them to feed because I hate pumping and convenience is great. However, both of my sons were very outside oriented and insisted on being outside/being able to at least look outside for chunks of the day or they would (or will for the current one) just scream their little heads off. My almost 5 month old has had an odd insistence on being outside at 3pm every day since he was born. I don't know how he knows it is 3, but he does and he wants outside.

That being said, cost is a factor. I would have loved my son(s) to be able to go the the spanish immersion school, but I couldn't swing the cost. If the care is great at the basement school and you need to save the money, don't feel bad sending your baby there. Ask the other people you know with kids there whether it is actually musty all the time, or you are just being overly pregnancy sensitive.
posted by katers890 at 7:28 PM on August 23, 2012

I think contact with interesting and happy people, and having lots of contact with Mom, is much more important for an infant's well being than having that contact in a pretty location. Have your spouse or a friend come with you on a second visit to get a sense of the vibe (and how musty it really is.)
posted by SMPA at 7:41 PM on August 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Getting ready in the morning with a baby and packing all his stuff adds a ton of time to your morning.

Start with the basement, if it doesn't work, you can change. None of this is forever.
posted by k8t at 7:42 PM on August 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

Well, I work in a basement all day and it doesn't kill me, and I really don't remember a hell of a lot about my day care arrangements until I hit preschool age, so "my kid will be depressed because s/he's in a basement as a baby" doesn't seem like a huge deal to me. (Musty, on the other hand, I dunno. Might want to ask about that.) I'm inclined to say that the super closeness of the place would probably trump everything for me, though. That is a huge advantage.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:48 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it just that it's a basement, or is the space itself actually dreary? My kids have gone to/do go to a program that is in the daylight basement area of a church. Even in the spaces that don't have any substantial natural light (like the gym), it's still cheery and bright. Lots of great color on the walls and floors, lots of textures, fixtures that provide different kinds of light other than overhead (like floor lamps, funky lanterns, etc). Now, we're in Seattle, where "natural" light is grey and sad 8 months of the year, so it is very necessary to make any space for kids bright and inviting. If that's the case, I say go for it without hesitation. If it is just dreary and there's been no effort to brighten things up, I'd be leery of the program for more reasons than the dreariness, if that makes sense. The ability to continue nursing during the day would be HUGE for me, though, and if the care is good, I might make that choice for the first year (or however long is important to you) just to make that happen, and then switch to the other place.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 7:51 PM on August 23, 2012

I'd start with the basement and see how it goes, it sounds like the benefits outweigh any negatives (I don't think babies really care about beautiful surroundings so much as they do about being cared for nicely and having easy access to you) - but maybe you can ask them about why it smells so musty.
posted by thylacinthine at 7:59 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

If your work colleagues are folks that you trust their opinions and they feel comfortable with the basement daycare, that would go a long way toward making me feel better about it. That, along with being able to visit and nurse your baby during the day are huge. Time with Mom and Dad is priority #1 with babies, not windows.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 8:10 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask about the mustiness. Have they had their air conditioning filters cleaned etc, just tell them your family has a history of allergies and you're concerned. That would be the only break-it factor for me - for the rest, being able to walk by and check on your baby is an amazingly huge bonus.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:19 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that your co-workers feelings are to be noted, but don't feel like "it must be OK because everyone else likes it" and ignore your gut feelings. The logistics sound good for the church daycare, but does your job support popping out to breastfeed? What about pumping at work? If you sent your baby to the Spanish immersion daycare would you be able to pump? Definitely ask about the mustiness.
posted by Joh at 9:35 PM on August 23, 2012

I am super pro-breastfeeding, but as we have been bf for 15mos now (yay!) and I have been back at work since 11weeks, I have to say you might be overestimating how much/often you will really be willing or able to leave work in the middle of the day to go bf. You might find that it takes much longer than is feasible with your available breaktime/lunchtime. Plus you may find it hard or too confusing to your LO to pop in occaisionally for feeding but otherwise leave him/her with others. And I say that as someone who is far from being in love with her pump, which I just consider a necessary evil. I would be much more concerned about the mustiness. But wth, you can always start with the place across the street and then switch if you just don't like it there.
posted by vignettist at 9:56 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I remember very clearly the creepy/dank/depressing environments that I was in. Even now, I remember 'feelings' of creepiness from before I could actually remember events. Everyone is different with their memories. These ones were bad ones for me. (even though the teachers, etc. were fabulous.)
posted by Vaike at 12:46 AM on August 24, 2012

Also, Temple Grandin did a great talk on how we all have different brains. Your child's brain might retain this much differently than another child's brain. One might remember the teachers and the games, while another might remember the cold colors and the square, empty room.

I would remember the hard floors way before I remembered any fabulous lesson/attention from the caretaker.
posted by Vaike at 12:50 AM on August 24, 2012

I've had two babies in daycare, and from my POV, the caregivers are 99.9% of the experience for babies under a year. Toys, environment--none of matters nearly as much as how much the babies are held, responded to, and cared for. If you feel good about the caregivers, that is the key, IMO. And if the location means that you can see the baby several times a day to nurse, that's golden. Pumping sucks! Having been able to do that would have changed MY life and made ME so much happier than those 3x daily dreary pumping sessions plus all the milk transfers into the goddamn bags, etc.
posted by tk at 3:20 AM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wish I had your problems! Which is to say, it sounds like you have two good options.

I don't have the answer for you, but some things to think about. (Dank moldiness I would actually check into. And real moldiness would be a dealbreaker for me.):

- where will the baby have the shortest day? Many babies don't nap well in daycare, and a shorter day could mean one additional solid nap a day at home. That could be great do his/her mood, development, and general wellbeing.
- will you really be able to pop out and breastfeed on demand? If so, I'd say that would be huge at first. More bonding time with baby, and less pumping (I find pumping an inefficient chore. Because its so much less efficient than breastfeeding, I can't pump enough for my baby spin have to supplement with formula.)
- once the baby's old enough, frequent visits from mom could be disruptive. My 6 and a half month old seems happy enough at daycare (they say she's very giggly, and I've arrived to pick her up and seen her giggling away with the teachers) but she bursts into tears when we leave her there in the morning. She knows she's being left and doesn't like it. Even a month or two ago she probably wouldn't have understood that, but now I'm not sure I'd want to leave her several times a day.
- some babies do notice environment. Mine did starting at around 2 months.
- however, they're likely much more interested in people. If the people are warm and kind and attentive, I would think that would be enough for the first year or so. Our place doesn't have the ambiance I want. But the kids seem so happy and they seem to love the teachers. That's what reassures me the most.
- what option results in the shortest day for you? I do find that getting her bottles and snack ready each day is time-consuming. I'm glad our daycare is on the way to work.
- will either option be easier for your partner or helpers to do dropped/pickup? The fact that ours is close to home means my husband and sister in law can do drop off and pick up easily whenever they get off work early or go into work late. That means our baby spends more time with her family and I think that's a good thing. It has also reduced my stress on days when I need to work late.
- I don't think more stimulation is necessarily a good thing when they're little. All else equal, loving and competent caregivers would trump the ambiance in my book for sure. If the caregivers are equally great, then I'd consider ambiance.

I guess I did have your problem, come to think of it (except your bad was my good) and I chose the place closer to home and farther from work. I'd love to see my daughter during the day, but I also think I worry about her a bit less since I can't.

Tl;dr: apart from possible mold, I'd go with the place where your baby will spend the least time and you will be the least stressed and tired. Once the baby is 1 or so, I'd switch to the nicer place. I think ambiance becomes more important then.
posted by semacd at 3:44 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry for all the typos. I was pumping, so I tried writing this on my phone. ;)
posted by semacd at 3:58 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of good things to think about, thank you! I'll be picking my colleagues' brains today about the basement vibe and smell. As for breastfeeding at work, I work at a hospital that is very supportive. One of my colleagues walks across the street to breastfeed, the other pumps in the lactation room just one floor below us. The hospital provides the 'industrial-strength' pump, we just have to buy the kit for it. So either way I have options.

Spanish immersion day care is a half mile from our house, so it would be easier for my husband and I to split the drop-off/pick-up duties. But they have a smaller drop-off/pick-up time window (7:30 to 5:15), so the daycare near work is actually more flexible time-wise (especially since I don't have to factor traffic into the evening pick-up deadline).

Any other thoughts are greatly appreciated.
posted by Maarika at 5:25 AM on August 24, 2012

So, I recently went back to the church basement where I went for preschool 30 years ago. It seemed so small and dark! But I don't remember it that way at all, it felt big when I was four. Just anecdata.

Someone once told me "The harder it is to make a decision, the less important that decision is." You're having trouble deciding because both options would be really good for you and your kid. I say just pick one. It's not an irreversible decision.
posted by mskyle at 5:42 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have the kind of job where flexibility is necessary? My son's father sometimes has to stay late on short notice. If that is something that happens in your job, the flexibility is really, really important for your sanity. If your job is something where you leave, someone else takes over, and you're done, then it's not nearly as important. Traffic could make a big difference, too.

Also keep in mind that one of the biggest factors in quality of life is time spent commuting.

I don't know. Maybe it's raising a baby in NYC, where space is at a premium, but nothing about the basement daycare but the mustiness seems like a problem to me.

The most important thing to a baby is having consistent, responsive care by the same caregivers.

The biggest things I looked at were child/caregiver ratio, very low caregiver turnover, not moving children around classrooms unless absolutely necessary, and requiring all children in the center to be vaccinated on time. The first time I went to the center I eventually chose, I was really bummed out by the facilities. I wanted to have my child in a brighter, nicer daycare but the waiting list was forever and I really needed to go back to work.

Now, by a twist of fate, I'm in the brighter, nicer daycare multiple times a day, and guess what? They move the kids around a lot, I see new faces every day, a couple of the teachers aren't very nice, and it's overall not as good for babies as the daycare my son is in. The fact that there's more sunlight and it's a bit bigger doesn't seem very important now that I'm actually experiencing what it's like at both daycares.

For that reason, in your place I'd probably pick the closer daycare, and offer to help them with the mustiness problem, maybe even buy them a dehumidifier or otherwise contribute. Dropping in multiple times a day is just really awesome for peace of mind.

Sorry to ramble, and I hope that helped.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:55 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and sorry, the other biggest thing that I think you don't notice until you're a parent is the quality of naps. How do they do naptime? Someone wrote a great comment here about daycare naptimes that I will try to find for you, but some daycares do a good job of it and some daycares, it's a wonder the kids can sleep at all. Sleep is so important for babies!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:57 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

My kids went to a daycare that I would categorize as closer to your basement option. But they went from the time they were 4 months old until they were 3.5, when they started at a bright, shiny, French immersion school. They were well taken care of at the dingier daycare, they learned a lot more than I expected them to, and were well prepared for preschool. They never noticed that the place wasn't pristine. They felt secure and happy there (and I was happy with the care they recieved) and that was my main priority.

For me, the other major criteria is ease of dropoff/pickup. So my vote is go for the basement for now.
posted by pyjammy at 12:04 PM on August 24, 2012

Funny, I actually went to a church basement day care center next door to my house from about age 2 until I started kindergarten. I only have positive memories of it and I don't remember ever feeling claustrophobic or shut-in by being in a basement. I just remember playing a lot of games and loving the teachers, and thinking it was really neat to go to pre-school right next to my house.
posted by lunasol at 12:07 PM on August 24, 2012

I'll be honest. Although I'm not religious, I'm fine with religion, so my answer isn't biased in that way. But, if you truly don't want them to be "brainwashed about Jesus" as you put it, I wouldn't send them to a church. As more and more research is done, especially the boom in baby research in the past 10 years or so, it's becoming well-accepted that babies understand a LOT more than we think, a LOT sooner than we think. Babies as young as 5 and 6 months can use basic sign language to express wants and needs, which means their internal dialogue, though obviously not in a "language" as we know it, does exist. They're listening, they're absorbing, and they're learning - way younger than most people think. Also, basement, ew. Their little bodies are more susceptible to things than ours - that musty smell in most basements is mold, and while it won't affect an adult much, I certainly wouldn't expose my baby to it (I have a baby, this has come up, and I've chosen not to go to friends' houses over it).
posted by bender b rodriguez at 2:31 PM on August 24, 2012

"The most important thing to a baby is having consistent, responsive care by the same caregivers. "

Almsot forgot...loudly seconded!

"The biggest things I looked at were child/caregiver ratio"

Also, this.
posted by bender b rodriguez at 2:33 PM on August 24, 2012

The first thing I thought of was More Time Outdoors May Reduce Kids' Risk for Nearsightedness, Research Suggests.

The basement would really put me off, but yeah, being able to drop in etc. would be a huge factor.

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 3:02 PM on August 24, 2012

Response by poster: Follow up: I chose the church basement daycare by work today. This morning I visited a neighborhood church basement daycare to compare, and then I went to the church basement daycare by work with my colleague this afternoon for an unscheduled visit. The mustiness was completely gone today. Last week I visited during a rain storm, so I think the humidity plus the fact they were doing laundry at the time resulted in the weird basement smell. The kids were happy, the staff was great, and so I wrote out a check and reserved a spot for my baby for next spring. Thanks for all your thoughts and ideas!
posted by Maarika at 7:54 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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