There’s nothing like the peace of mind you gain when you know you can trust your childcare provider — knowing that your child is safe, healthy and learning. Still, finding quality care for your baby or toddler is not a task to be taken lightly! When carefully balancing factors like overall cost, convenience and availability, it can be difficult to choose between the available options. But with a little research, you can find the childcare option that’s best for your family.
Group Day Care
Price range: $$-$$$
For their cost, open hours and reputation, a day care center is often a great option for working parents. For parents with a commute, day care centers often have the most flexible hours for early drop-off or late pick-up. With a reliable schedule, other perks of a group day care are that kids get to socialize with others their age under the care of trained childcare workers. Most centers won’t care for a child who is ill, though, and parents must adhere to the center’s drop-off/pick-up schedule even if work runs late.
It’s never too early to get on the waiting list for a good group day care center. Those that accept infants are in high demand, so start looking when you’re in your second trimester.
In-home Day Care
Price range: $-$$
With a reputation for nurturing atmospheres, in-home day care can be the right option for some families. The price can be cheaper than some day care centers, with fewer children overall (and thus lesser exposure to illness). One caveat is that an in-home provider might need to call in sick if they are ill or their own family has an emergency, or they might close the center during vacations, so you may need to consider your backup options.
To find a spot at a good in-home day care, you’ll want to start looking at least two months before you plan to return to work. Ask if you can stop by sometime with your little one for a meet and greet.
Price range: $$$-$$$$
Perhaps the most convenient infant childcare option is to have a nanny come and care for the child in your own home. With plenty of personalized attention, children are in their familiar surroundings and parents don’t have to worry about drop-off or pick-up. But this convenience comes with a cost — perhaps the heftiest of all childcare options. With a few children at home, though, it may make financial sense. Some friends may go in together and share a nanny for multiple kids.
Hiring an au pair (a nanny from another country) may save you a little bit of money each week versus hiring a nanny, because you are also expected to provide them room and board. The U.S. State Department oversees the J-1 au pair program (j1visa.state.gov/programs/au-pair). If you are considering an au pair, it’s best to work with a licensed agency that understands the U.S. requirements and adheres to strict standards.
One downside to hiring a nanny or au pair? If that caretaker gets sick or decides to move on from the role, a family could find themselves in a bind unless they have backup childcare options. A nanny agency can help you find an infant caregiver who is qualified and has already had a background check.
Price range: $-$$
If relatives live in town, an inexpensive childcare option is to ask a grandparent or other family member to pitch in. If you can trust your in-town relative and benefit from a shorter commute, this option can work for some families. As an added benefit, a grandparent or other relative can benefit from the companionship of being with their grandchild. For families who enter this arrangement, communication is key to avoid sticky situations or hurt feelings if the arrangement doesn’t work out. This could be full-time or part-time, and with or without pay.
Tip: Ask your relative to watch your baby while you are still on maternity leave, to help you work out any kinks in the new arrangement.
Still not settled on your options? Ask other parents for ideas! You’ll be surprised at how eager they are to share their childcare experiences — good and bad. Ask other parents at the playground, talk to your child’s doctor, or ask for referrals in local parenting groups online.