If you’re considering putting your baby in day care, here’s what you need to know — from benefits and downsides to the questions you should ask and what to look for in a facility.
If the thought of leaving your baby with someone else all day, every work day, makes you want to never leave your baby at all, you're not alone. It's a big decision, especially if this is your first baby.
But if you're planning to go back to your 9-to-5, you're in good company: According to some estimates, more than 70 percent of all primary caregivers work outside the home. And that also means there are plenty of excellent child care options, from nannies to babysitters and more.
One of your best options is day care, either through a group center or home day care. Many centers offer exceptional care with licensed, trained caregivers in an environment where your little one will get valuable socialization with other kids her age.
Here's what you need to know about day care, from the benefits and downsides to questions to ask potential providers and what to look for when you visit a day care facility.
A day care is a facility where parents drop children off, usually for a full day, with other kids of varying ages. You have a couple of options:
A good day care program can offer some significant advantages:
Depending on where you live, you may need to leave yourself a little more time to find a day care.
It's a good idea to start looking at least two months before you plan to go back to work; if you live in a big city you might even want to start checking out your options before your baby even arrives. Here are a few steps to take:
Once you've got a few options in mind from your pediatrician and other references, get a feel for the places you're considering over the phone by asking the questions below.
Once you've screened your day care options, schedule a visit at three to five group or in-home day care centers. Make sure you see the following features before you enroll your baby:
You want to see alert, content, clean babies in spacious rooms, with a quiet area where they can nap in separate cribs (and according to their own schedules). Caregivers should genuinely seem energetic, patient and genuinely interested in the kids. Visit toward the end of the day to get a more accurate picture of what the center is like than you would first thing in the morning.
Look for lots of verbal and physical interaction between kids and caregivers. Does staff get down on the floor and interact with kids? Are the kids engaged (and not zoned out, looking off into the distance)? Check as well for age-appropriate toys that are in good shape. And ask for a rundown of the daily activities, which should include lots of singing, talking, reading and dancing as well as on-the-floor playtime activities.
Babies under 12 months shouldn't be mingling with toddlers and older children — bigger tots can be pretty rambunctious and haven't yet mastered being gentle with infants.
Your child can't come and go as she pleases at home, so she shouldn't be able to freely roam (or leave!) the day care center either. Adult visitors should also be closely monitored so only staff and authorized grown-ups who are there to pick up and drop off can enter.
A well-run group day care center spells out its health and sanitation rules on a sign, and then follows them:
Make sure that the day care provides a safe environment for kids by taking the same safety precautions you do at home. There should be: