If returning to work after having a baby was a recipe, securing childcare that’s a good fit for the new mom, her partner, her baby, and the rest of her family would be one of the key ingredients. Finding childcare – and, more than that, finding the right childcare – is tough. Getting started on your search early can help the process run much more smoothly.
Securing childcare might be a lot easier than you expect, and something could fall into your lap with no effort on your part. It happens! But thinking about what you want and doing careful research will help you find a good fit – and in plenty of time for your planned return to work.
Lay the groundwork
Coworkers can be a great resource, since they likely have very similar needs to you in terms of flexibility, timing, and cost. Family and friends might also know about good local childcare, since many of the people you’re closest to may share your values and ideas about what makes a good childcare set-up. Other pregnant women in birthing classes or who go to the same healthcare provider as you may be looking for childcare at the same time, which can be helpful if you’re interested in something like splitting a nanny or sharing a commute.
Use your network and ask among social groups, religious groups, alumni groups, newcomers groups – the more you talk up your needs, the more likely others are able to help you find the right childcare for you.
Consider your options and preferences
What do you think you need from your childcare provider? Do you want flexibility or a rigid schedule?
Have you thought about your ideal location for childcare? (Near your home enables both you and your partner to be involved in drop-off and pick up, though you’ll want to consider how this will shape your commute. However, on-site daycare at work may be a better option in terms of quality and cost if this sort of care is available to you.)
Would you like your child to get a lot of 1:1 attention or would you like him to get in more socializing with other children throughout the day? Are you interested in sharing an in-home provider with another family or have you been thinking about taking up a family member on their offer to provide childcare?
Once you figure out what you want from childcare, you can think about what options meet those needs.
There’s family day care, which is operated right out of the owner’s home. Another option is a daycare center, which is a childcare facility that is licensed by the state. You might be considering a nanny or au pair, an option in which the childcare provider works (and sometimes lives) at the family’s home. And, on a related note, there’s also nanny-sharing, which is when a single nanny works for two or more families.
You or your partner may also have an employer that offers on-site or near-site childcare for babies and children, which takes the hassle and worry out of choosing a daycare, and as a final but not insignificant option, you might also have family members who are willing to provide childcare for a few or all days of the week.
There are pros and cons to each of these options, but with a great deal of consideration you can narrow down your options until you’ve found a few that you want to explore.
Figure out the costs
Many states have assistance programs for childcare, which can help with costs related to childcare, sometimes including transportation costs. Your employer may provide some benefits related to childcare, and your family may be eligible for tax credits for childcare expenses. In addition, for families in which one parent is a student or one parent is in the military, you may be eligible for other specific types of monetary assistance to help pay for childcare.
Some childcare centers even offer sliding scale fees for families in need of assistance, so it can be worth asking if centers that appeal to your family have any such fee options.
Test drive your choices
It really helps to do a trial run of childcare and, possibly, what will be your new morning and evening routine before it’s time to go back to work. You’ll get more practice dropping Baby off and picking him up, and Baby will get the chance to adjust to a different schedule and environment.
If you decide on in-home childcare, a trial run might mean having your caregiver over for one day or for a few days to get Baby used to their company and also to be able to introduce your caregiver to Baby’s routine as well as where important necessities – like diapers and bottles and his favorite stuffed animal – can be found around your home. This will probably also help you feel more comfortable leaving Baby in your sitter’s care.
If you’re leaning towards a family daycare or a childcare center, it’s certainly worth visiting together for a short time on one day or more, since being cared out of the home could be a big adjustment for your little one initially. You could ease into the transition even more by dropping your child off alone for a short period of time, and then again for a longer period of time. You’ll want to check with the center to see what will work for you and them.
The sooner you can get started on this part of the process, the better. Depending on the demand for childcare in your area, you may still find yourself putting your name down on wait-lists, even if you end up signing up before your baby is born.
Have a backup plan
One of the nerve-wracking things about choosing childcare is the concern that you might choose wrong, and it’s true that it’s possible that your first choice of childcare might not be the one you end up feeling comfortable with. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a sense of how flexible your chosen childcare might be, and why it’s also helpful to have a backup plan in mind. This might be a relative who works from home and who might be able to watch your little one in a pinch or a babysitting or childcare agency that accepts last-minute requests.
Options like this may not be your first choice – and in a perfect world, you won’t need them. But if you do end up feeling like your current childcare option isn’t working out and you need something to bridge the gap until you find something new – or even just if you need last-minute sick-day help – it will be much more reassuring to already have an idea of where you can turn.
The bottom line
Your little one is precious cargo! Finding someone that you trust and who is a good fit for your needs can take a while, because a decision about who your child will be spending time with isn’t something to be taken lightly.
Research and timeliness are key elements of your decision, but there’s really no way to know for sure if you’ve found a good fit until it’s time to try it out. Stay open to the possibility that your first choice for childcare may not be the one you decide to go with in the long-term. If this happens, you’ll want to try to find something new – and that’s okay. Talk to your partner, family, or friends about what you might be able to use as a backup plan if something about your initial plan doesn’t go the way you were expecting it to.
- Karen Stephens. “Infant Child Care: Heed These Warning Signs.” Parenting Exchange. 2007. Retrieved July 25 2017. http://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/childcare-for-infants-warning-signs.pdf.
- “5 Steps to Choosing Child Care.” Child Care Aware. Child Care Aware. Retrieved 25 July 2017. http://childcareaware.org/families/choosing-quality-child-care/5-steps-to-choosing-care/.