Whether you are looking at a return to work after maternity leave, or just need a sitter for an occasional date night, leaving your baby in someone else’s care for the first time can seem like a daunting task.
Will they be safe? Will they get the same level of attention as they get from you? What if they don’t take a bottle? Will they cry? Will you cry?
Here are five things to consider when finding a caregiver for your baby:
1. Determine the type of care you need and want. You will have different expectations of an occasional babysitter than that of a full time caregiver. It may not matter that an occasional sitter has a little trouble putting your child to sleep at his usual time, because his routine isn’t greatly affected by one late nap. However, you may want a regular caregiver to follow the same routine as you do at home.
Depending on your budget, your child’s needs, and your personal preferences, you may be looking at the following types of care:
2. Get referrals and check references. When looking for care, ask your friends, family members, and neighbors for referrals. No matter what kind of care you are looking for, if you can get a referral from a family who has had personal experience with a caregiver, you may have more peace of mind about leaving your child with them.
If you can’t get personal referrals, you can get referrals from local parenting groups, or you can view ratings on child care sites like care.com. You can use a child care agency; they screen their caregivers in advance, conduct background checks, and may require them to have a minimal level of experience or training.
When you find potential caregivers, ask for references from families with whom they have worked in the past. If they can’t or won’t offer references, this can be a sign that they are inexperienced or have had negative experiences you may want to avoid.
3. You make the decisions. You have the right to choose a caregiver who will respect your parenting choices, including how and when to feed your baby, how to respond to crying and other cues, how their sleep is structured (or unstructured), how often they are held, how they comforted, how they are disciplined, and more.
Look for child care providers who will work with you to accommodate your preferences. Sometimes they may have limitations due to the number of children they care for. Know which areas are the most important to you, and find a care provider who can meet your needs in those areas.
When your care provider is a family member, your parenting choices should be respected. A family member who ignores your instructions may not be the best person to watch your child, even though they may be more emotionally attached to your baby than a professional caregiver.
Also consider an out-of-home caregiver’s policies on dropping in to see your child. If a facility limits your ability to visit your child, or requires advance notice, this may be a red flag that they will present a different picture to you of the care your child is receiving when you are not around.
4. Ease into a schedule. If you have the flexibility, consider leaving your baby for small increments of time with their caregiver, and build up to a regular schedule over a period of weeks or months. This period of transition will help both you and your baby get used to being apart.
A slower approach can also apply to occasional or part-time care. Have your sitter watch your child in your home while you are there before you leave your baby alone with them for the first time. The sitter can become familiar with your home and the baby’s routines, the baby won’t consider the sitter a stranger, and you will get a sense of how the sitter will care for your baby when you are gone.
If you are breastfeeding, easing back into work may help you maintain your breastfeeding relationship while you pump to build up a supply. It may also give a baby who is reluctant to take a bottle time to adjust to a new method of feeding.
5. Consider alternatives. Sometimes, the needs and priorities of your family change after your baby is born. When pregnant, you may have had a plan to return to work after six weeks but now that your baby is here, you feel you need an extended maternity leave. Or maybe you planned on hiring a nanny, but you found an in-home daycare that seems like a better fit.
Some families re-evaluate their need for a two-income household, and one parent decides to stay home to care for the baby full time. Or one parent transitions to work from home for a time, to be more available to help with child care.
If you find yourself re-thinking your child care needs, there are many options available to parents these days. Start a discussion with your employer about what flexible options may be available to you. Examine your family budget to see if one or both parents can stay home with the baby, or work from home for a while. See if a family member is available to help out on a regular basis.
Make the choices that are right for you new family, even if those choices are different than what you thought they would be when you were pregnant!
I am a certified labor doula (birth doula) and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the greater Treasure Valley.
Planning for birth and postpartum can be just as stressful as choosing child care. Find out how a doula can help you as you bring your new baby into the world.
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.