FatCamera / Getty Images
Whether you’ve got a newborn at home, or you’re about to welcome your first baby, you may be stressing about who will care for your child once you go back to work: a day care or a nanny? Well, you’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 65 percent of mothers with children under age six are employed. And here’s the thing: While a private nanny is certainly a comfortable way to go, you have to make a whole lot of money to make that happen. Luckily, there are several day care options which provide quality care for your baby, but for less money.
There are essentially two different kinds of day cares you can choose. First, there is group day care, which is state-licensed and run by qualified staff, with kids of varying ages. About 1/4 of infants and toddlers are in group day care, according to ChildStats.gov. Another option is home day care where someone watches your child (as well as others) in their own place. Often, it’s a mother watching your baby, alongside her own kids. While some of these homes are licensed, many are not.
So how do you choose the best day care for your baby? Here are some tips…
1. Decide whether you want to go with a group day care or home day care. There are pros and cons to both situations, so you have to determine what is most important to you. In a group day care, there is more reliability and accountability: they have several staff members that are trained and licensed, and they’re usually open for 12 hours to accommodate parents’ schedules. They have an educational component as well, which may be important to you once your baby becomes an engaged and curious toddler. Unfortunately though, they may also be closed during holiday breaks, even though you may still need care.
Home day care centers may not have the accreditation, but there will be less children, so your baby will get more personal attention. Also, because there are generally less children, there are less germs floating around, so it may be a healthier environment. That being said, there is usually just one caregiver, so if she gets sick, you may be out of luck.
2. Get recommendations from people you trust. The best way to find the perfect day care for your child is to talk to other parents and people that you trust. First, ask your pediatrician if she can recommend a good place in your area. Then, reach out to friends, or strike up a conversation with other new moms at the park, or in your mommy-and-me class. The mom network is strong and people talk, so this is a great way to get valuable info. Then narrow it down to a few options.
3. Ask the right questions. With a new baby (or one on the way), you don’t have a ton of time for exhaustive research. Day cares understand this, so you can call them on the phone and ask them some important questions before even checking out the place. Here are just a few questions you’ll want to ask:
What is your cost and do you have availability?
In bigger cities especially, the best day cares tend to fill up fast, so it’s a good idea to start your research ASAP, ideally before your baby is born.
What is your accreditation?
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has the highest standards for childcare centers so you’ll want to see if any group day cares you’re looking at are on their list. For in-home centers, look at the National Association for Family Child Care, which also holds them to higher standards.
How many children do you have at one time?
In group centers, it should be no more than 6 babies per group, with one staff member for every three to four babies, according to the non-profit Child Care Aware. In an at-home daycare, there should be no more than 6 kids total (and only two kids under age 2).
What is your childcare approach?
Make sure they’re aligned with your philosophies on child-rearing, from disciplining to sleeping to eating to soothing.
What is your vaccination policy?
Unlicensed childcare centers do not need to follow state guidelines on immunizations, so that’s something to consider.
4. Do your own inspection. Once you’ve spoken with them on the phone and narrowed down your options, you’ll want to do a visit. Some things to look for: happy children, engaged staff, and a clean environment. You’ll also want to make sure that babies are separated from older children, and that everything in the baby area is properly child-proofed. Finally, make sure that the facility is safe and protected, meaning adults can’t get in without approved access, and babies can’t get out. You might also want to just drop-in unannounced on another day, so you can get a sense for what a typical day looks like when they’re not expecting you. At the end of the day, your Mama gut may be your best judge.
5. Check references. Ask for the names of current and former families, so you can call them and find out more about their experience. Talking to a real person will make you feel more at ease with your choice, and you can get their take on any small concerns you may have had. If they’ve left the day care, you may also want to find out why. With all of your research done, you’ll feel a whole lot better about putting your precious baby in someone else’s care.