Picturing yourself without your pregnant belly and with your baby in someone else’s care may be difficult right now. Nevertheless, whether your child will need an occasional baby sitter or will be among the 44 percent of infants younger than 1 year who receive regular non-parental care, the last few months of pregnancy is the time to start your search for caregivers.
But it’s not easy, either emotionally or logistically. In addition to the worry and grief that can accompany leaving a child under someone else’s care, particularly a stranger’s, many parents find it difficult to simply find good care. The good news — at least from the emotional point of view — is that a recent report conducted by the National Academy of Science (NAS) has found that as long as the care is high quality, there is no harm for a child to be cared for by non-parental caregivers.
But what exactly is high-quality child care? “The specific kind of care is not important; what matters is a relationship with a limited number of caregivers who are reliable, nurturing and attuned to the needs of children,” says Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., chairman of the Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development at the NAS and the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and one of the authors of the report. “The problem,” he adds, “is that there is not enough high-quality, affordable infant care in this country.” All the more reason to start your search early.
The key is to find people who devote themselves to forming stable, loving relationships and creating a safe, stimulating environment. For a good match, ask questions about their approach to child care, such as: How long do you let children cry before tending to them? How do you soothe a crying baby?
To help you narrow down your options, here’s a guide to the different choices available.
Center-based care is provided in settings ranging from free-standing centers to schools, churches, synagogues, community centers or workplaces.
What to look for: A visit is critical. “Determine if the location is safe and cheerful and the teachers are engaged with the children,” says Diane Umstead, program manager for Child Care Aware, a program of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies in Washington, D.C. “Look for age-appropriate toys and books. Ask the director about the daily schedule, the rate of staff turnover, staff experience and background checks. See how responsive the director is to your needs; for example, can you stop by to breastfeed?” Also ask about the ratio of caregivers to children; an ideal ratio for newborns to 1-year-olds is 1 adult to 2 children, with 1 to 3 being acceptable, Shonkoff advises.