Where is my baby going to snuggle when I go back to work? Finding child care is one of the first tasks that needs to be addressed when you are juggling parenthood and your career. I remember feeling both overwhelmed and emotional about it all. Having a plan doesn’t necessarily make it less emotional, but it does take away some of the stress and uncertainty. I also found it easier to start picturing my baby at a specific place rather than wondering where my baby was going to be.

For most of us, there are three main options to consider: daycare center, in-home child care, or nanny. Every option has pros and cons and how you balance those really depends on your family’s needs. As you weigh these options here are some things to think about.

  • Budget – there is variability here, but the cost usually increases as you go from in-home care, to daycare center, to nanny.
  • Hours and flexibility – there is variability here too, but nanny and in-home options may be more flexible than centers, which tend to line up with the 8-5 type work schedules.
  • Backup and reliability – There may be the potential for more scheduling surprises with a nanny or in-home option because you are usually reliant on a single person. You may need a backup option if that person is ill or on vacation. It is pretty uncommon for a center to be completely closed (aside from holidays and inclement weather) because they have more employees and can absorb someone being out sick or schedule around someone being on vacation.
  • Environment – Nanny and in-home are typically done in a home setting (theirs or yours) while a center may have more of a school feel. There will also be differences in who your child is around during the day. A nanny would likely just have your kids. An in-home care would likely have other kids at a range of ages. And, a center would likely have other kids at the same age. The level of structure in the day may differ between these options too.

For my family, we opted for a daycare center. I liked that it felt a little more like a classroom and that my child would be with other kids the same age and in a space that was set up with toys and activities for that specific age range. I liked that we weren’t dependent on one person and that the center would be less likely to have unexpected closures. We don’t have family in the area or a good backup option, so this was really important to us. I liked that there was a curriculum and structure to the day. I also liked the idea of many adults being involved in my child’s care. None of these are right or wrong. They are just what made sense for our family. It’s entirely possible that the things I liked might be things that you don’t like. For example, I saw a lot of people being involved in my child’s care as a positive because there would be a lot of eyes and oversight. You might see this as a negative because you want your baby to have the comfort and familiarity of always having the same caregiver. Neither of us are right or wrong. We might just have different perspectives and needs. That’s why there are no right answers here – just things to think about to decide what is best for you and your family.

Once you decide what would make sense for your family, it’s time to make some phone calls and schedule some visits. If possible, try to do this before your baby arrives. Some places will have long wait lists and you will have more options the earlier you start. Try to go during the day when kids are there so you can see everything in action. Keep an eye out for how the kids seem in general, how much affection and attention they are given, how the rooms are organized, if there are any safety concerns, and your overall feelings about the place. It’s normal to feel anxious about leaving your baby anywhere, but trust your gut reactions. Are you comfortable here?

If answers to these don’t come out during the tour or discussion, here are some good questions to help you gather information. 

  • Will this place fit our budget and schedule?
    • Do you have any openings for my child? What is the availability and how does that compare to my time frame?
    • What hours are you open or available?
    • What is the tuition or weekly rate? Are part-time options available (if needed)?
  • Who will be caring for my child?
    • What education or training (first aid, childhood development, etc.) have the staff had? 
    • How long have the staff been present? Is there a lot of turn over?
    • What screening or background checks are done?
    • Are other people ever on-site or in contact with my child? Who? How is that handled?
  • What children will my child be with?
    • How many children are enrolled and how are they organized (age groups, etc.)?
    • What is the adult/child ratio?
  • How will you handle my baby’s basic needs?
    • Are babies fed on demand or is there a schedule? How do you handle bottles and feeding? Are there special procedures for breast milk?
    • How do babies transition to solids? Will meals and snacks be provided at that point? If so, what is a typical meal?
    • Who supplies diapers? Will you do cloth or disposable? How often are diapers checked and changed?
    • Where do babies sleep? What safe sleep practices are being used?
  • Will this be a good fit as my child grows?
    • What is a typical day like? Activities? TV?
    • What curriculum and developmental activities are there?
    • What discipline methods are used?
    • How do you approach potty training?
    • Are there any educational or other philosophies that are incorporated – religious, Montessori, etc.?
  • What other policies should I know?
    • Are you certified/licensed/accredited?
    • What is your policy regarding sick kids? Are there adjustments to tuition?
    • What is the vacation policy? Are there adjustments to tuition?
    • What is the immunization policy?
    • Can we visit whenever we’d like?
    • What are security policies? How are kids checked in and out? Who can pick up my child?
    • What is the main way that you communicate with parents?
  • Is there anything else that I should know?

I know this looks like an overwhelming list of questions, but collecting this type of information will help you decide what is right for your family and for your baby. I also think it’s important to remember that whatever decision you make is not a forever decision. You can try something out and see how it feels for your family. You are not deciding forever. You are just deciding for now.

Good luck! What other things did you look for or ask when you were looking for child care?