Though it might feel strange to start thinking about childcare when you haven’t even met your baby yet, once you know you’ll need some coverage (either full-time or part-time), it’s best to determine as soon as possible whether your child will be taken care of at home by a paid caregiver or at a daycare facility. The details might seem overwhelming at this point, so we’ve outlined some of the key differences to consider below:
Cost: The hourly cost for a nanny can be up to twice as much as for daycare, with possible additional associated costs such as social security payments, transportation reimbursement, or meals. With either mode of childcare you’ll likely pay even when you go on vacation, although a nanny can sometimes be more flexible, for example scheduling her vacation around yours. If your child is sick and can’t attend daycare, you’ll pay both for daycare and an emergency babysitter (or with personal/vacation days), costs that can add up over the course of several years. If you have more than one child, the associated nanny costs go down (though a nanny’s salary increases with additional children, it doesn’t double), while daycare costs will increase somewhat exponentially.
Convenience: Having someone arrive at your home 15 minutes before you need to leave for work is certainly easier than getting yourself and a baby (and whatever supplies the daycare may require) out the door. If you’re late returning in the evening, it’s nice to know there’s someone staying at home with your baby who can start the dinner and bedtime routine. On the other hand, if your nanny is sick or delayed, this can leave you late and/or scrambling for coverage. Daycares keep fixed hours and have an entire staff ready to take care of your child during those hours, pretty much no matter what.
Control: At home you and your nanny work together to make sure your child adheres to a desired feeding, eating, and sleeping schedule, and you can control activities and environment. At a daycare center often children are taught to adhere to a routine that works better for the group as a whole; most daycares are sensitive to the desires of parents, but it’s simply not practical to have each child on an independent schedule. Plus, your nanny works for you – at a daycare you are one of many parents, each with distinct desires or needs.
Health: Daycare obviously puts babies and kids into contact with other babies and kids, and there’s little doubt that babies in daycare generally get sick more than those taken care of at home. Some parents think this builds up a baby’s immunities, ultimately making them healthier and less likely to miss school later on, while others disagree. Either way, it’s important to know your daycare’s policy about bringing a sick child, and to understand there will be some days when you’ll need a back-up plan.
Social: At a daycare your child will have plenty of opportunities to interact with other children and adults, and to experience an environment other than home. The best daycares also offer lots of fun activities and classes to fit every personality, such as music, dance – even yoga! With a nanny, children won’t necessarily come into close contact with their peers, so it’s important to make sure you and your nanny integrate play dates, classes, or other age appropriate activities as your child grows.
And finally, remember: No decision is final. It may take more than one try to find the fit that works best for your family, but you’ll get there, even if what you need is more than one fit! Some families, for example, find that starting with a nanny in infancy and switching to daycare later when the child is older works well.
Ready for the next step? Check out our earlier post “When To Start Looking for Childcare.”