Finding reliable childcare can be one of the most difficult parts of returning to work. It’s a necessary and time-consuming process, so we recommend starting at least 6 weeks prior to heading back to work, if possible, to give yourself plenty of time before maternity leave ends.
Here’s our advice on the childcare selection process: You can do it!
What type of care do you need?
Consider the following:
- How many hours a week do you need care, including your commute time?
- Does your or your partner's work schedule and/or location make in-home or out-of-home care more desirable?
- Do you prefer to commute with or without your baby?
- Do daycares in your area have waitlists? How likely are you to be off the waitlist by the time you return to work?
- Do you have space in your home to host a nanny or nanny share?
- Would you consider a live-in nanny or au pair and do you have space to accommodate?
- Who is likely to be responsible for pick-ups and drop-offs and how does proximity to that person’s work site affect available care options?
- Do you have family that can help on a regular basis or can watch your child if they are sick?
- Do you or your spouse frequently work from home or travel overnight? Which childcare option would work best under these circumstances?
What can you afford?
The real reason parents say “this is why we can’t have anything nice”? Childcare.
As you make your childcare plans, be realistic about what your budget is and how it aligns to your care needs (determined by the questions above). Generally, childcare costs mount as you move from family members to home/family daycare, followed by nanny share (2 babies, 2 families, 1 nanny), daycare center and in-home nannies (1 baby, 1 nanny). However, if you have two young children or multiples, in-home care may be more affordable than daycare. Rates and norms fluctuate wildly depending on your geography, so ask around for local rates.
You may be able to get some work perks such as onsite daycare or a flexible spending account which helps you save money by paying some of your childcare costs with pre-tax dollars or by receiving a child/dependent care credit.
A hidden cost of childcare emerges when you need to cover your baby’s sick days and doctor visits. Do you or your partner have paid sick time and/or flexibility to stay home if your child is too sick to be around other babies? We recommend budgeting one day per month of “sick time” for your baby. Between colds, doctors appointments, and random rashes, this is about right during the first couple of years. If covering surprise sick days will be problematic for you, you’ll want to look into backup resources or in-home care.
Another hidden cost is the stress of managing childcare between you and your partner. We recommend a frank discussion about what’s going to make everyone the most comfortable. Some parents prefer the structure, socialization, and dependability of a daycare while others prioritize individualized attention, easier logistics, and less exposure to germs that in-home care offers. The right answer for you is the one that will cause the least amount of stress.
Selecting the best care options
Once you determine what type of childcare will work best for your family, you can narrow your options and begin learning more. Although you may be new to this, trust your motherly instincts: if it doesn’t feel right, move on. For best practices on daycare and nanny interviews, see our checklist here.
If you decide to hire a nanny, we recommend that you create a written contract to ensure your family is on the same page with your nanny with regards to expectations, schedule, and pay. Additionally, if you decide to do a nanny share, you may want to create a written nanny share agreement with the other family to align expectations for supplies, location, payment/taxes, overtime, and vacation planning. For more information on creating a nanny contract, see our recommended terms here.
Once you’ve finalized your care plan for your baby, you can begin thinking about how you and your partner can shape your work day to accommodate your new schedule.
How can you minimize the amount of “stuff” you’re bringing back and forth each day? Here's a basic list to get you started:
- Sleepwear (i.e. sleepsack, swaddle)
- Extra pacifiers and lovies
- Tylenol or Advil with dosage information
- Diapers and diaper cream
- Sunscreen and sun hat
- Extra outfit and bibs
- Extra bottle and/or formula
- Emergency contact list (phone numbers, pediatrician info, medications, allergies)
Pro Tip: We recommend having two sets of the essentials if your caretaker is outside of your home. You’d be surprised at how discerning babies can be about their favorite items and how clearly (loudly) they can communicate their distaste over the backup pacifier at 3am.
Give it time
The relationship between you and your baby’s caretaker should be open, honest, and collegial. Hopefully your caretaker will feel like an extension of your family, but this process takes time. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate your expectations or course correct, especially in the early days. Once your caretaker has had a few sessions with your baby, she’ll begin to know your baby’s needs as well as your needs. It will be (slightly!) less difficult to leave your baby once you know he/she is in loving, trusting, and familiar hands.