It’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to find child care for your baby. No matter what decision you make—whether having a parent or in-law watch your child, hiring a full-time sitter or au pair, or enrolling them in a community or private day care center—you and your baby will have to make adjustments to your routine. But if you go into the search with a few considerations already thought through, you’ll likely find quality care for your child that makes you feel comfortable, makes your baby feel safe, and makes the whole family happy.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing the right child care for your family.
Child Care Budget
You may hear other parents discussing nannies, au pairs, or babysitters—also called sitters. And while some people use the terms interchangeably, there are some notable differences. A nanny is typically a full-time caregiver who comes to your home to watch your child. Hiring a full-time sitter or nanny to come to your home is typically the most expensive option, costing as much as $800 a week or higher.
An au pair is a young woman or man who will live in your home for one to two years and care for your child for a maximum of 45 hours a week. Aside from any agency fees, you’ll be required to cover their room and board and pay them a weekly stipend of $195.75 minimum, which may add up to less expense overall than hiring a full-time nanny.
A babysitter is someone who watches your child in less of a full-time capacity. You may hire a babysitter for a standing Saturday night date, or to pick up your child from a day care facility on weeknights. Fees for babysitters can vary widely across geographic regions, and typically pay by the hour.
A group day care, where your child is watched in a commercial facility or a private home with other children, is typically less expensive than hiring a nanny, though infant day care can run as much as $400 a week or higher.
Depending on your circumstances, you might also consider asking a family member like a parent or in-law to watch your child. If you go that route, be sure to discuss compensation before your relative starts watching your baby, so that everyone has clear expectations.
A day care environment with a team of caregivers can be a great option for parents who work outside the home and can’t stay home from work if a caregiver calls in sick (as would happen with a nanny, au pair, or relative). However, if you need flexibility in scheduling, a day care facility might not be helpful. Day care centers have set hours of operation, so if your work schedule is varied or shift-based, they may not provide coverage when you need it. Many day care centers offer early dropoff and late pickup times, though that typically comes at an extra cost. A group day care provider who works out of their home might be more flexible with hours, as might a solo child care provider who watches your child in your home.
When considering both day care centers that operate in dedicated facilities and those that are based in the provider’s home, be sure to ask if the business is state-licensed. Licensed facilities have to abide by a certain infant-to-caregiver and child-to-caregiver ratio, and meet specific health and safety requirements, including first aid. Some centers, such as faith-based child care centers and those run by the public school system, may be exempt from licensing, but it never hurts to ask.
Location of Child Care
If you want your baby to remain in your home while you’re at work, sleeping in their own crib, playing with their own toys, and sticking to their existing schedule, in-home care might be right for you. On the other hand, if you’re excited about the idea of your baby getting used to new settings, and potentially a variety of caregivers, a day care option might be more appealing. Taking the idea of location a step further, be sure to drive to and from a potential day care center during your typical weekday commuting hours before leaving a deposit. You’ll want to make sure you can comfortably incorporate the extra drop-off time into your schedule.
Chances are, you’d like your child’s caregiver to have many of the same core values you have. For example, you might have strong opinions about not allowing your baby to watch a screen, and that the caregiver should refrain from screens while caring for your child. The more structured the caregiving option, the more easily you’ll be able to assess shared values. A day care center will likely have their own rules and standards that they can share with you during an interview or visit. Professional solo caregivers should be also able to comfortably explain their values when it comes to caring for your baby. Sometimes, it can be trickiest to make sure your values are adhered to when you’re dealing with a caregiver who is a relative, like a parent or in-law who may have raised you or your partner in a way that you don’t necessarily want to replicate. Before agreeing to have them watch your child regularly, outline your expectations and make sure they agree to abide by them.
Few parents operate on instinct alone—that’s why we included all of the other considerations here. That said, it’s always important to listen to your gut. As you interview potential caregivers and explore different child care scenarios, pay attention to what your inner voice is telling you about a situation. Ultimately, a child care situation can seem great on paper, but if something about it makes you hesitant, it’s smart to rethink the plan.
As you’re deciding how to choose a daycare, learning the difference between a babysitter and a nanny, and selecting a child caregiver that also suits your scheduling needs and budget, it’s important to remember that the best quality child care will make you feel confident your baby is in the best possible hands, thriving and happy until they’re back with you.