From the moment the word “pregnant” pops up on that little digital stick, parents will embark on making what seems like an endless number of decisions for their new little bundle of joy. Should they find out the sex of the baby or wait to be surprised on delivery day? Will the new mom nurse or bottle feed? And possibly one of the most daunting decisions new parents will make is deciding who will care for their precious newborn when they have to return to work.
Know Your Options
Traditional methods of childcare typically include child care centers, hiring a nanny or using what is known as a “family child care home.” Deciding which method is best for both the parents and child can require a substantial amount of time and research, so you really can’t start too early in your pregnancy. Personal referrals can help to narrow your search tremendously, and you can start by asking friends, co-workers or even your pediatrician.
Child Care Centers
One of the more accessible sources of childcare is child care centers. There are many aspects that can factor into choosing the right center for your growing family. Parents might choose a center based on its location or hours of operation. Others might consider a center based on a church or religious affiliation. Some might have to consider the enrollment age based on the length of maternity leave, as some centers enroll infants as early as six weeks, while others wait until 12 weeks. If a center is the path you choose, start early, as some will start accepting applications within your first trimester of pregnancy.
Accredited child care centers provide a structured environment with trained staff in early childhood development. They encourage the socialization skills necessary throughout the developmental stages of your child’s early years and can provide a long-term child care arrangement from infancy through preschool. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides online resources to help you find accredited centers in your area, as well as a list of criteria that you should look for in a child care center.
Kathryn Smith, a Physician Assistant and mom to Helen and Charlotte, says that she and her husband Gabe, “chose the daycare route because we wanted the socialization for our daughters as well as a community of families to connect with as new parents.”
Family Child Care Homes
Another form of childcare that parents might consider is a family child care home, which is a daycare that operates out of the owner’s personal residence. This option can be less expensive than traditional child care centers but still offer similar benefits. Some of the differences include the in-home setting, a smaller child to caregiver ratio and a broader variety in the ages of children being cared for together.
Bridget and Justin Robichaux, parents to daughters Leah and Avery, chose the family child care home route when their oldest daughter Leah was born. They received a personal referral from a co-worker and knew after their first visit that it was a good fit for their family. Bridget says, “It felt more like going to grandma’s house every day instead of daycare.”
The continuity of care from having the same provider from three months to five years was also a huge plus for the Robichaux family. “She was more than a daycare teacher, she became family. She helped us through the infant routine, potty training and taught them both to read. She has seen us through a move, a difficult medical diagnosis, career changes and the birth of an additional child. We will have a strong bond with her for the rest of our lives.”
Child care homes are required to meet certain standards, so be sure to verify that they are current with your state’s regulatory laws. Carolyn Stolov, Family Life Expert at Care.com, and Patricia Dischler, President of the National Association for Family Child Care (NACFF), suggest the following things to look for when considering this type of service:
- Safety. Is the childcare provider CPR certified?
- Adequate space, both indoor and outdoor
- Emergency procedures. Do they practice fire drills, etc.?
Hiring a Nanny
Another form of child care is hiring a nanny to care for your child at home. This can likely be the most costly of the different forms of child care, but the benefits of this option can far outweigh the cost for some new parents.
A nanny allows the child to stay within the home, remain on his or her schedule, and eat familiar foods. Having a nanny can also offer flexibility for families with unconventional or inflexible work hours. If you decide to go the nanny route, be sure to emphasize the importance of incorporating socialization opportunities for your child, whether it’s through play dates or classes.
New parents will quickly realize that the added expense of child care is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully, there are numerous resources available to new parents to help them along in this decision-making process.
Dr. Susan Bankston, a pediatrician at The Baton Rouge Clinic, states that, “While children will sometimes pick up on a few less desirable things, like biting and earlier exposure to illness, daycare centers can provide a great environment for social interaction for your child. Nannies will cost more, but there are certainly benefits to being able to keep the child at home as long as they are with an active, education-minded caregiver.”
High-quality child care can come in many forms, so take the time to find the best fit for your family!