I waited until DD turned 1 and then started using the gym's child care center. I also made sure they knew I wanted to be called if she fussed/cried more than five minutes. That meant I was going to her about 20 minutes after I dropped her off, comforting her, and then deciding if I should stay longer or take her with me. We've been going at the same time every morning for a month now, and today when I went to pick her up she was playing with another baby by herself (meaning no adult was holding her. ..she's always being held or is on someone's lap!). I nearly cried because I was so happy FOR HER!
A few things that seem to work well for us:
* I always tell her in advance where we are going, and remind her that she's been there before (like yesterday) and who she was playing with.
* I always take the time to make sure she is comfortable with the adults who will be watching her in my absence. I'm that mom who introduces my toddler to adults. I'll say, "Tellie, you remember Miss Valerie from yesterday? She held you until you were ready to get down. If you need anything while mama is upstairs you may go to Miss Valerie. They know where to find me and I can come to you at any time." I don't drop her and leave her. Mind you, she might fuss for 30 seconds to 2 minutes when I leave, but now, it is never more time than that. I make sure to stay with her if we walk in and there are other babies having meltdowns because she is sensitive and will start to cry watching other toddlers cry. Sometime we even go to the other toddler and talk to them so she sees they are just sad and not being hurt.
* I try to get to her before they have to call me so we leave on a happy note, and not when she's upset. At one year of age she can remember events from a week ago so I try to leave the gym with a happy toddler with a happy memory.
* We always say good bye to the adults who have cared for her. We thank them for their attention.
* Finally, I always carry her to the day care center but when we leave she walks to the front of the gym while munching on a whole wheat cracker and waving to every person she sees. Again, waiting to establish good memories along with her routine.
It was (and still is) so hard to leave her, but this is the ONLY hour I get to myself a day. I don't even take time to shower there, not yet, but the more accustomed she becomes the more likely I am to shower so I can shower alone!
Good luck, Mama. We all know and experience the guilt, but it is so good for our little ones to experience a little time without us, as hard as that may seem to believe. :-)