Day care for infants

Hunting for child care for your baby? There are different options when it comes to choosing child care for your baby—in-home care or care at a private home or facility commonly referred to as a day care center. To help you decide, we’ve compiled the pros and cons as well as checklists for the common child care options available.

The Lowdown on Day Care for Infants

Many parents know from the get-go that they will need day care for their baby, while others may not know exactly when this need will arise. No matter what your situation is, you may have a tough time thinking about letting someone else care for your precious baby. Your best bet is to do some research ahead of time and find the best options for your infant, whether you're considering hiring a child care professional like a babysitter or nanny, or dropping your little one off at a day care center or family home. Your baby’s health, safety, and development are crucial, and the right child care setting with high quality care can help promote all of that. Read on to learn all the things to consider when choosing the child care for your little one.

When to Start Looking for Infant Day Care

The timeline for when to start looking for infant day care will depend on your personal situation. Do you want full-time or part-time care? Do you need care soon after he’s born, or are you looking for care that will begin when he's older? For many parents, a good time to start searching is before their baby is born. If you haven't decided on what you want or need, it’s still worth researching and exploring your options as soon as possible during pregnancy so that you’re prepared for whatever comes up.

When Is a Good Time for Your Baby Start Day Care?

Every baby is different, and each family's situation is unique. In general, babies up to 7 months old easily adapt to being cared for by a caregiver. Older babies and toddlers may have more difficulty adapting to a new caregiver. The 7- to 12-month stage may be especially challenging because babies tend to become anxious around strangers during that period. To help your baby get used to a new caregiver, set up a time for your baby to meet the potential caregiver, whether that’s in your home, in her home, or at a day care center. Continue by increasing the length of time at subsequent visits to help your baby acclimate to the caregiver. Eventually your presence may not be needed as the two may form a bond. Once you’re ready to start regularly dropping your baby off at day care, consider creating a brief goodbye ritual, which may include giving your baby a hug and a kiss, letting her know you’ll be back later, and waving goodbye as you walk away. This can help ease your baby’s separation anxiety. Oftentimes, separation will be harder for you than for your baby. So, take heart in knowing that your baby will be in good hands. If you like, you could ask the caregiver to send you text and photo updates throughout the day.

Budgeting for Infant Day Care

Budgeting for the cost of just the right child care option for your infant is a personal decision. Think about what you need, what you expect, and what you can afford before beginning your search. If you think you may need financial assistance, you may have options available to you such as dependent assistance eligibility from your employer or subsidies from your state. Government resources such as ChildCare.gov are a good place to start. To save on the cost of child care, you or your partner might consider adjusting work hours so that the amount of time you may need child care is reduced. You might also check with agencies as well as child care referral organizations, such as Child Care Aware, which may have information on the average cost of infant day care and financial assistance.

How to Choose Infant Day Care

In order to choose the right child care facility for your baby, it’s a good idea to visit each home or center that you’re considering. Some may have waiting lists, which is another good reason to start your search sooner than later. Once you're at a site, take the opportunity to ask as many questions as you’d like. When starting your search, feel free to ask others for recommendations. Look to family, friends, coworkers, and your child’s healthcare provider for suggestions. Child care agencies can also be helpful during your search. Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing infant day care:

  • How many days and hours per week might I need for my baby’s care?

  • Where do I want my baby’s care to take place: in my home, in a caregiver’s home, or at a center?

  • How close or far can the child care facility be from my home or workplace?

  • Will I be able to transport my child back and forth from home (or my workplace) and the child care facility?

  • What type of backup plan might I have in place if the caregiver is be unavailable due to illness?

  • What size child care program do I prefer, small or large?

  • How much can I afford to spend on child care?

For more information on how to choose child care for your baby, check out the checklists below each type of child care for infants in the following section.

Types of Infant Child Care

There are different types of child care for babies that you might consider. In the following sections, read about the pros and cons of each type of care, and get checklists on what to look out for when choosing that specific type of child care.

In-Home Child Care

As the term would suggest, in-home child care takes place in your home. Depending on what arrangement you decide upon, you could have a babysitter who drops by each day, or you might have a nanny or an au pair living with you.

Pros

  • Your baby stays home

  • You don’t have to drop your baby off at day care

  • You may be able to set your own requirements with the child care professional

  • Hours may be more flexible

  • Your baby receives individualized attention

  • No exposure to other children’s illnesses or negative behaviors

  • The child care professional may help out with light housework or prepare meals during your baby’s nap

  • If you’ve used an agency, it’s another level of reassurance that references have been checked and the caregiver’s background has been cleared.

Cons

  • In-home child care isn’t regulated

  • It can be on the expensive side when compared to other child care services

  • If you’ve used an agency, you most likely will have to pay an agency fee

  • The caregiver may not be well trained in child development, first aid, and CPR

  • There are responsibilities and requirements you will need to meet as an employer

  • You may find it uncomfortable knowing a caregiver is living in your home

  • There are fewer opportunities for your baby to socialize with other children, as would happen in a day care center

  • If your caregiver becomes ill, you’ll have to find a backup person.

Family Child Care

In some instances, child day care is provided in someone's private home, often for a group of children of different ages. Small operations may have fewer than 6 children at a time, and larger ones up to 12 children at a time.

Pros

  • Your baby is in a home-like setting with other children to socialize with

  • Family child care is generally less expensive than in-home child care or day care

  • Homes must meet local or state safety regulations and cleanliness standards

  • Certain homes may provide specific care for children with special needs or flexible hours.

Cons

  • Quality may vary from home to home

  • Some, but not all, family child care homes participate in child care training and have staff undergo background checks

  • Homes may not be as well-equipped as the facilities in larger day care centers

  • You may be asked to drop off and pick up your baby at designated times, which may not align with your schedule.

Day Care Centers

Child care centers, or more commonly known as day care centers, are larger facilities that are organized and staffed with people who are trained to care for groups of children, ranging from newborns to preschool-aged children. A day care center is typically housed in a building that's not a home. It may have separate rooms for children of different ages, especially if it’s a combined day care, preschool, or pre-kindergarten program. The child care center may be independent, part of a local chain, a nonprofit, or funded by the state or federal government. Some programs may have eligibility requirements based on income, and some may be affiliated with a religious institution.

Pros

  • Child care facilities must meet local and state standards

  • Programs are often structured and designed for different age levels

  • The staff is often highly educated and has experience working with children

  • There are often multiple staff members who provide care, so there is less of a worry of having backup if a caregiver becomes ill

  • There are plenty of opportunities for your baby to socialize with the other children

  • Hours may be flexible, with options for part-time care or extended care

  • There may be an option for checking in on your baby through a secure live online video feed.

Cons

  • Regulations may vary from center to center

  • These types of centers can be expensive

  • Some large child care facilities may have waiting lists

  • The more children in the facility, the higher the chance that your baby may become ill

  • If your child has a mild illness, like a cold, you may be asked not to bring your child to the center during her illness

  • Centers may specify drop-off and pick-up times, and may even charge a fee if you miss the specified time.

The Bottom Line

Choosing a child care option for your baby is an important decision. That’s why it’s never too early to start looking. There are three main options to consider when choosing child care: in-home care, family child care, or day care. Each one has its pros and cons, and cost considerations. There are some questions you’ll have to ask yourself when weighing the options, such as budget, location, and the type of care you’d like for your baby, among others. When researching options, start online, ask your baby’s healthcare provider for recommendations, and talk to other parents. Read up on the facility you’re considering and ask to take a tour and meet with the staff. It will be a good opportunity to get all your questions answered and see if it’s the right fit for your little one.

    • Mayo baby book
    • AAP