childcare options

How to decide which childcare option is best for your family

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One of the hardest things you’ll have to do as a new mom is to leave your baby. Especially when you go back to work. The process can be emotional, especially if you’re a first-time mom. That said, there are many childcare options to consider. You should think through all the options and choose the one that works best for you and your family. I’ve also compiled a list of childcare questions you should definitely ask as you finalize childcare for your baby. 

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Figuring out a childcare option is one of the most important parts of preparing for a new baby. But it’s not the only important thing to do. Find out everything you need to do to prep for a new baby!

Related: 7 important things to do before you have a new baby

There are many different childcare options you can choose from. I’m going to detail some of the pros/cons of each. Please keep in mind these are my own opinions and I know everyone has a different experience. Feel free to leave me a comment and let me know your preferred childcare method and why below!

I’m going to talk about four options, starting with the least expensive first. 

The Cheapest Childcare Option: Splitting Shifts

One of the most cost-effective ways to deal with childcare is to split shifts. This means you’ll work alternate hours from your significant other. The main benefit beyond cost is that each parent spends ample time with the baby. The price is also right. 

If you’re on a strict budget and don’t have anyone else to help with childcare, this can be a good option. However, you’ll need your employers agree to the hours you’re able to work. 

The major cons in this scenario are scheduling and reduced time with your significant other. If someone only works night shifts they’ll get less time with the baby. If you split night shifts, you’ll constantly be battling sleeping arrangements and scheduling for the family. 

Another drawback is that your child might not get as much exposure to other children or key development activities. These are par for the course in a daycare or with a nanny trained in early childhood education.

With split shift schedules, a parent may not have as much time to devote to coming up with additional activities. I’m not saying this from personal experience,just noting that schedules are challenging and there is lots of 1:1 parent/child time.

That said, many families figure out a system that works for them. They’re able to keep childcare costs much lower than the rest of us. 

If you’ve successfully done split shifts with your spouse, leave me a comment below. I’d love to know how it went!

Pros: Cost, Extra Baby Time

Cons: Lack of connection to your S.O., sleeping/scheduling, working odd hours

A Cost Effective Childcare Option: Family Caregiver

A family caregiver is an incredible option if you have it available, especially for the first year. In this scenario, you’ll be able to work a more traditional schedule, while still not paying the high cost of external childcare. It seems like a no-brainer, but there are definitely things you need to consider. 

Things to discuss with your family caregiver

  1. Does your family member have the ability/strength to care for your child all day? In many cases care giving of an infant falls to a grandparent. You need to think about their health and determine if they’re physically able to care for a child all-day
  2. Flexibility: Many family members still want to have some flexibility in their lives. They won’t feel comfortable signing up for caring for an infant for 40-50 hours per week. You might need to look at a combination of family and outside help. This way you aren’t overburdening a well meaning family member with childcare responsibilities 
  3. Development: As your child grows, will your caregiver be motivated to work on sensory development? Or activities that encourage hitting key milestones? Simply keeping up with the day to day caregiver responsibilities can be a challenge. Yet, kids may need additional stimulation to thrive. 
  4. Will your caregiver notice if your child isn’t hitting key milestones? As a first-time mom I had no idea when she was supposed to roll over, develop a pincer grasp, or transition to a sippy cup. Since the recommendations on all those things change frequently, will someone who isn’t in a childcare setting be up to speed on the latest and greatest information? 

The points above are definitely NOT to dissuade you from using a family member as a caregiver. In fact, if it was an option, I’d almost always say it’s one of the best choices for many reasons. I just wanted to point out some things you should think about and discuss with your caregiver. You want to ensure that there are no surprises or changes in expectations once they’re actually caring for your child.

Traditional Childcare Option: Daycare Center

This is one of the most popular options for many reasons. It combines reliability (they’re always open when they say they will be), updated knowledge and experience with children, and more reasonable cost. 

That being said, daycare is in no way cheap – and I’m actually going to list cost as a “con” in a moment as well, but since it is more affordable than a nanny I called it out as a more reasonable option. 

Socialization and learning patience and group behavioral skills are some of the key benefits of daycare. I never worried about my daughter’s social skills as she was in group care from five months plus. She also had to learn to take turns and share and wait for someone to attend to her when the caregivers were busy. 

These are invaluable skills that she definitely wouldn’t have learned as quickly if she’d just been home with me or in a 1:1 care situation.  Daycare is a hotly debated topic in some circles. If you want additional information, check out this post on how to choose the best facility.

Pros: Socialization, Activities that promote sensory and motor development, the child will learn patience and sharing more rapidly, reliability, more cost-efficient than a nanny, multiple sets of eyes on your child

Cons: Cost, your kid WILL be sick all the time, if they are sick, they’re out for 24 hours past the fever,  less 1:1 attention

A more non-traditional childcare opportunity: In-home daycare

In-home daycare offers these same benefits, but with many fewer children than a traditional care setting. The pros/cons of in-home daycare differ a bit from a larger center, so I thought it was important to call out separately. 

The main difference with an in-home daycare is that there isn’t anyone checking up on your care provider. It’s unlikely that there is anyone else in the home that isn’t a family member so you won’t ever really know what’s happening with your child. Additionally, although there aren’t 20 kids running around the room, your childcare provider will likely have the max amount of kids she’s legally allowed to watch. Which isn’t really that different than a traditional daycare center. 

Pros: Likely more bonding with your child and more 1:1 time, more affordable than a nanny

Cons: No checks and balances on care, your kid will still get sick and you’ll have to take off work

In-home Childcare: An Au Pair

An Au Pair is someone (likely from another country) who comes to live in your house and care for your children. They are employed on an annual basis.

This childcare option provides the benefits and flexibility of a Nanny while being more cost effective. The potential downside is that you have to commit to a stranger living in your home up front for a year.

You also need to be prepare to figure out transportation (she likely won’t have a car) and whether you feel comfortable having someone not familiar with our traffic laws driving your children.

That said – if you really want the benefits of in-home care but aren’t up for paying the full-time nanny price tag, this could be a great option. Especially for older children.

Pros: Lots of 1:1 attention, flexibility, time for developmental activities, in-home care

Cons: No supervision or oversight, you need to have additional living space and provide transportation, extra insurance, etc.

Full or part-time childcare: A Nanny

Ok, now for the holy grail (or most hotly debated) childcare option is a full-time nanny. Nannies can be live in or only come to your house for the workweek, and there are about a thousand things you might love about this childcare option. 

Why you’ll love a nanny

Nannies will be totally focused on your child. No letting her sit in a bouncer for 45 minutes while all the other kids get fed. They’ll be 100% attuned to your child’s needs and are often a lot more flexible than a daycare.

You can arrange start and end times that may differ weekly if needed, and if you’re going to be late you can always just ask if you can pay for extra hours. A key benefit is not having to get your kid packed and ready and out the door with you in the morning. You might even have the nanny be in charge of breakfast to free up even more time. Additionally, if your kid gets sick, you aren’t going to be stuck taking off work for 2+ days. 

Nannies are also either familiar with taking care of kids or trained in early childhood education. They probably have more experience with childhood developmental activities than an inexperienced family caregiver. 

Finally, you can negotiate other household tasks with your nanny if needed. She might be able to do grocery shopping, meal prep, or light cleaning while your child sleeps. 

Things to think about when hiring a nanny

Of course, no childcare option is perfect, and there are definitely things you should think about when you decide to hire a nanny. 

Is she up to speed on all the latest best practices and childhood development milestones? 

There are no checks and balances. She’ll be alone with your child all day so other than putting up a nanny cam, you’ll never really know what’s going on. 

Is she reliable or does she have a lot going on in her personal life? Unlike with daycare, if your nanny is sick or doesn’t show up, you won’t be going to work either. A highly unreliable nanny is probably the worst childcare option since you’ll be stranded a lot of the time. 

And finally, probably the worst thing about this option is the high cost. You’re paying a full-time salary for someone to take care of your child. Many times they also ask for help with benefits costs. For most families, this is simply cost-prohibitive. While I would have loved a nanny for our first, I didn’t feel like we could afford it. We ended up loving daycare, but I would have felt a lot better with a nanny at first. 

Pros: Lots of 1:1 attention, flexibility, help with additional home tasks, time for developmental activities, no need to prep your children to leave the house

Cons: No supervision or oversight, reliability, very expensive

How to prep for outside childcare

If you’re going with a daycare or nanny option, you’ll want to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions when you do your visits or interviews. Some of the questions you need to ask aren’t things you’d think about normally, so it’s important to get the answers upfront. 

Get immediate access to our printable child care checklist by entering your email in the box below. You’ll be able to print multiple copies for each of your childcare interviews and take notes on what you discuss with each person or center. 

Starting to think about how you’ll handle childcare early in the process is critical. Talk to your significant other and determine what childcare option is best for your family, and don’t forget your childcare checklist when you go to interview people or locations.

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Choosing childcare is one of the most stressful things a new mom faces in the early months. Check out five different childcare options and decide how to find the best childcare for your family. Learn tips to choosing a childcare provider or in-home caregiver or nanny. Determine what fits your budget and is best for your family.


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