Start your search early!
If you will be returning to work after the birth of your baby, you will need to secure a caregiver for your child. Start your search during your second trimester to ensure you leave enough time to fully vet candidates and get on a waiting list if necessary. There are many options available. Read on for advantages to each and things you should consider. At the end is a list of questions to ask a daycare provider while you are conducting interviews. Lots of information here…settle in!
Relying on a Family Member or Close Friend
- Familiarity – your child likely knows this person and is comfortable with him/her.
- Security – having the comfort that you can trust this person with your child.
- Flexibility – ‘wiggle room’ on drop off/pick up times and can make visits during the day.
- Cost – in some cases, Grandma will be happy to care for your child for free or you can negotiate a reduced rate.
Things to Consider:
- Training/expertise – ensure the family member watching your child has expertise in baby needs.
- Baby proofing – create a safe environment free of items that can be potentially hazardous (i.e., electrical outlets, stairs, shiny glass items that your baby cannot resist grabbing off of tabletops…)
- Required baby gear – you’ll likely need to provide essentials to make your baby comfortable such as a crib for naps, a high chair for feedings, toys, etc.
- Emergencies – will this person know how to handle an emergency?
- Transportation – will this person have a car seat in their car (in case they need to get to the doctor, for example).
- Other children in the home – while this is great for developing your baby’s social skills, it also means she may get sick more often.
- Backup plan – if your caregiver gets sick or travels, you’ll need to secure backup daycare.
- Flex spending – if you are paying ‘off the books’, you won’t be able to take advantage of your benefit plan’s dependent care spending account.
- A smaller ratio of children to provider – your child may get more attention.
- It’s ‘homey’ and less ‘sterile’ than a large daycare center.
- Less overwhelming – your child may have difficulty initially acclimating to a large daycare.
- Cost – likely more cost-effective than a daycare center or nanny.
- The ‘Mom’ Advantage – Most are Moms themselves, so they have experience caring for children.
- Flexibility – an in-home daycare is less likely to charge if you are late on occasion and is probably also more flexible with drop-off and pickup times.
Things to consider:
Many of the considerations here are the same as utilizing a family member or friend. See the section above for details. Additionally:
- Children of different ages will be together so your baby may be in a room with rambunctious toddlers!
- Days may not be as structured compared to a more formal environment.
- Ensure your in-home daycare is accredited by the state in which you live.
- Your caregiver must have sufficient training and expertise in caring for children; therefore, ask to see credentials.
Hiring a Nanny
- Focused attention – this person is hired solely to focus on the care of your child.
- Additional help – some nannies will also do light housework and run errands (if you permit them to and provide a car seat).
- Comfort level – your baby gets to stay at home where she is most familiar with her surroundings.
- Schedule – your baby gets to keep their own schedule instead of adhering to the schedule of a daycare center.
- No drop off/pick up – you don’t need to allow extra time in the morning for a drop off on the way to work.
Things to consider:
- Privacy – you will have a person in your home during the day in addition to your child – could be a concern if you work virtually from a home office
- Backup plan – if your Nanny is sick or quits, you will quickly need to secure backup daycare.
- Cost – Nannies tend to be more expensive than daycare centers or in-home daycares.
- Experience/certifications – ensure your Nanny has appropriate experience and expertise caring for children.
- Your level of comfort – install a ‘Nanny-cam’ for an added sense of security. Also, obtain references and check them thoroughly. Alternatively, go through an agency.
- Paperwork/legal issues – if you hire a nanny directly, you are the employer and responsible for paying payroll taxes; so make sure you know the legalities.
Large Daycare Center
- Safety – daycare centers are required to adhere to safety standards or risk fines or closure.
- Minimal need for backup – if teachers are sick, the daycare will shift staff appropriately to meet needs.
- Knowledge and expertise – many centers have education and training requirements for teachers.
- Structured schedule – scheduled playtimes, mealtimes, outside times, nap times, and learning times help ease the transition to kindergarten.
- Skill development – your child will develop skills such as sharing, managing emotions and things like dressing themselves and potty training.
- Mealtimes – daycares that provide food are required to provide well-balanced meals and snacks.
- Tax savings – utilize your benefit plan’s dependent care savings account to pay expenses with pre-tax dollars.
Things to consider:
- Your child may not get as much one-on-one attention as they would in a smaller setting.
- With lots of kids come lots of germs. So until your child develops some immunities, he may get sick more often.
- Your child may learn undesired habits from classmates (hitting is a fun one) but will learn good habits too, like picking up after himself!
- May seem overwhelming for you and your child at first, but most children thrive over the long term.
Questions to Ask a Daycare Provider
In all cases, you should plan to interview your baby’s potential caregiver. Ask if you can bring your child with you and see how the caregivers interact with your child. It’s helpful to have someone with you if you do this, in case your baby gets fussy. We visited one center where the person giving the tour called my son the wrong name several times (that immediately put them out of the running). Here are some questions you should plan to ask:
- How long has the center been in business and what are your accreditations?
- What is the center’s licensed capacity? Do you have availability or are you waitlisting?
- What are your hours and holiday (closing) schedule? What is the policy for late drop-offs or pick-ups?
- Can I see a fee schedule? How is billing handled? Do you offer a sibling discount? Do I pay when we are on vacation or my child is sick?
- Are immunizations required to attend? What is your sick policy? What if my child needs to receive medication during the day?
- Do you have a website with a live video feed where I can check in on my child during the day?
- How do you screen staff? Are background checks performed? What level of education/training must staff possess in order to be hired?
- What’s the average tenure of staff members?
- What is the staff to child ratio in each age group?
- How many staff members have CPR, first-aid and/or emergency training? There should be several people in a large daycare environment certified in CPR and emergency training.
Care Philosophy Questions
- Do you have a set curriculum for each age group? Can I see a calendar of the activities planned for next month?
- What methods do you use to discipline children? Also, how do you comfort them and handle teasing and bullying?
Health/Hygiene and Safety Questions
- Are the infant rooms closed off from the rest of the center? Enclosing the infant rooms helps minimize the transmission of germs from small children to your baby. Babies also have an easier time sleeping since it keeps the baby area quieter.
- Where do the children sleep? Do you follow safe sleep practices to reduce the risk of SIDS? Do I have to provide linens for the crib? Where do older children nap?
- Do caregivers wash hands after changing diapers and before feeding babies? Do children wash hands after using the potty? Also, ask if toys are regularly cleaned.
- What is your disaster plan (for evacuations, intruders, fires, earthquakes, etc.)?
- What supplies do I need to provide? (Some centers provide diapers, meals or other items.)
- How do you communicate with parents? Will I receive a daily summary of what my child did for the day (i.e., naps, bottles, diaper changes, etc.)
- Do you encourage visits from parents? Can I come and breastfeed my baby during the day?
- While some daycares provide food, others do not. If they do, ask to see a menu. If not, ask what you’ll need to send each day.
Ask for references AND CALL THEM. Ask specific questions. If their children are no longer at the center, ask why.
Observe your surroundings while you are interviewing:
- Is the center clean and well-lit with age appropriate toys and furnishings? Are fire extinguishers and other security measures present?
- While touring the outside areas, ensure they are securely fenced in with safe, age-appropriate playground equipment and outdoor toys. Check to see if gates are locked or secured so children cannot get out and strangers cannot get in.
- How do you gain entrance to the center? Are you able to walk right in or are there security measures?
- Finally, do the staff seem kind and attentive to children? Don’t go during nap or meal time so you can observe staff/child interactions.
Some centers are equipped to enroll babies and children with special needs. You are the best one to know what your child will require, so go prepared with a list of questions based on your child’s specific needs.
Once You Make a Decision
Schedule a 2-3 hour ‘play date’ a week or two before you will return to work. This gives your baby an opportunity to meet her caregivers and get acclimated to her new surroundings and give you an opportunity to assess the routine of dropping your child off (and get over the initial shock that will inevitably hit when you drop your precious baby off and leave her in someone else’s care). While it’s never easy leaving your child, taking these preliminary steps will help you prepare for the road ahead.