Nanny, Grandma, Day Care, Au Pair: Which Childcare Option Is Best for You?

One of the biggest things to think about if you and your co-parent are planning to return to work after your parental leave is over is who to entrust with your baby’s care. If you are lucky, you have multiple possible ways to answer this question. In this blog post, we will cover several choices and their pros and cons, in order to help you decide which childcare option is best for you. Regardless of what you decide, if it seems like it’s not going to work out at any time or for any reason, it’s better to say no thank you and find a different caregiving situation for your baby.

Choosing a Nanny for Your Baby

A nanny is a full or part time childcare professional, usually with years of training and experience. Nannies generally come to your home specifically to care for your children there, and often bring with them expertise about getting babies to eat and sleep well. In this way, a nanny can be an asset to your family, but they can also be pricey.

When you are looking for a nanny, you might pursue candidates through a caregiver-finding website, recommendation from a friend, or via an agency that background checks the nannies beforehand. Either way, it’s important to meet with potential candidates, watch them interact with your baby once they’re born, and discuss your expectations and their caregiving style. You want to be on the same page about baby’s schedule, safety, feeding, diapering, playtime, and discipline before you bring someone into your home to care for your most precious family member.

If you hire a nanny, it’s also important to remember that you will be an employer of a household employee. As such you are legally responsible for nanny taxes and pay, as well as employee-related details like working hours, sick time, and paid time off.

Choosing a Family Caregiver for Your Baby

If you live near family, they can be a great option for someone to care for your new baby. They likely already love your child, and if it’s a grandparent you’re considering as caregiver, they have also already raised at least one kid—either you or your partner. Some grandparents take to grandchild care with grace and joy. Plus, caring for a little one can help keep them feeling young.

At the same time, there can be challenges with family caregivers. First, will you pay them for childcare? Some family members, especially if they’re retired, are happy to care for a beloved new baby free of charge, but others might have expectations about compensation. To avoid awkwardness, be upfront about your expectations and ask about theirs.

Second, sometimes it’s an advantage to have grandma or grandpa take care of the baby, but things have definitely changed since they parented you or your partner. Many grandparents adapt to new recommendations—such as car seat recommendations and safe sleep recommendations—with no problems. Yet others have trouble imagining why the things they did for their children isn’t considered the best idea these days, which can be annoying at best and dangerous at worst. If you have an open dialogue about why you’re doing things, and your family caregiver is willing to work with you, then it’ll probably be fine. You can always tell the caregiver that what you’re asking for is your pediatrician’s recommendation, if your word as the parent of your child doesn’t carry enough authority.

Third, there are logistics that must be figured out with a family caregiver. Will they come to your house or care for your baby at theirs? If they care for your baby at their house, where will the baby sleep and play safely and what sort of car seat do they have if the baby needs to go in their car? Will they pick baby up or will you drop baby off? What are the hours that you need childcare and can they commit to all those hours? What will happen on days when they are sick or out of town?

Choosing a Daycare for Your Baby

It’s quite common these days for babies to go to a home- or center-based daycare when they are as young as six weeks old. At a center, one or more adults care for groups of children. In a home-based daycare, usually one or two adults take care of a small group of kids, likely of mixed ages. In center-based care, children are often grouped by age into classrooms and cared for by at least two caregivers.

When selecting a daycare, it is important to visit, both during your pregnancy and after your baby is born, so that you can imagine your particular baby there. Ask plenty of questions about the children’s schedules, feeding, diapering, safety, sleep, and play time. Trust your instincts and try to find a place where you are confident the caregivers will provide loving and safe care. You can also ask to talk to current parents about what their experiences at the daycare have been.

High quality daycares can be great for children and their parents. Your child will be around peers—those children’s parents may even become your friends—and taken care of by adults with at least some level of caregiver training. Daycares are usually very clear about the cost of childcare and the hours it is available, which can help you avoid some of the awkwardness or misunderstandings that might occur with individual caregivers like nannies or family members. Group-based care can also help nudge babies toward a schedule, encourage them to be more adventurous about trying food, and eventually may even help with toilet training.

Choosing an Au Pair for Your Baby

An au pair is a bit like a nanny, but they tend to live with you in your home. Many au pairs come from other countries to work in the United States, and therefore share their home culture and language with your children and family. Generally, you would hire an au pair through an agency that connects interested au pairs with families in need of childcare. The agency will usually specify how many hours per week an au pair can work, what sort of accommodations they need in your home, and what you must pay them. If your home is large enough to support an au pair and the weekly schedule makes sense, an au pair can be a great choice to care for your baby. Most agencies carefully match you with an au pair they think will work well with your family, as well as let you speak with au pairs ahead of time in order to check whether it’s a good fit. As with all these childcare options, communicating with your au pair is key to this option’s success.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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