As I dropped my infant son, Whit, at day care for the first time, my eyes welled up. I dreaded leaving him with people I barely knew, in a place rife with rambunctious kids and runny noses. I pictured him being accidentally trampled or sitting in a poopy diaper for hours. But health and safety weren't my only concerns: I also worried that he wouldn't get the love and attention he needed to thrive.
Fortunately, day care ended up being great for us. Though Whit's had his share of sniffles, he adores his caregivers and loves being around other kids, he gets plenty of hugs, and he's made huge developmental strides. What works for one family doesn't necessarily work for another, however, which is why it's important to consider your own needs and explore your options before making a decision.
To help you make the right choice for you and your child, here are the pros and cons of three common options—day-care center, family day care and nanny—along with comments on each from real-life working moms. Since cost is often a factor, you'll also find average price ranges for the three types of care. So take a deep breath and remember: Quality child care does exist—the trick lies in finding it.
The scoop Care is provided in a commercial building, typically for 12 or more kids with multiple caregivers.
Pros Day-care centers are often open long hours and don't close when an employee takes a vacation or gets the flu, so they offer excellent coverage and dependability. Plus, all 50 states require them to be licensed, which means the facilities are inspected for health and safety standards, backgrounds of staff members are checked, and caregivers must meet any state-mandated education and training requirements.
Cons More kids equals more germs. Also, depending on the size of the center, your child's caregivers may change daily, and staff turnover can be high. Your little one may not get as much individual attention as he would in family day care or with a nanny. And unless your kid is a power sleeper, regular naps may be a pipe dream.
Average annual cost $4,388-$14,647 (for one infant, 40 hours a week)
What working moms say "Being around other kids helped my son develop verbal and social skills. He's much more advanced than my friends' children who don't go to day care."
— Irene Kotlyarova
"My son's caretakers were a nice mix of ages: young women with energy and a sense of fun, older ones with experience and a sense of calm. They were very responsible and nice and seemed to really enjoy babies."
— Nicole Gregory
Family Day Care
The scoop Care is provided by a nonrelative in a private residence, usually the caregiver's home. The number of kids typically ranges from two to 10, depending on their ages and state laws. (More kids may be permitted if the care provider has an assistant.)
Pros There's usually a small group of kids and one regular caregiver, which translates to more one-on-one attention and consistent care. Also, with fewer children, there's less exposure to germs. Plus, your child gets to be in a homey environment, which he may find comforting. Finally, most states require family day-care providers to be registered or licensed, which means they must meet health and safety standards and have passed a background check.
Cons If your care provider is sick or goes on vacation and doesn't have a replacement lined up, you'll need a backup plan. Since home day-care providers typically work unsupervised, there's no checks-and-balances system. And if you live in one of eight states that don't require family day-care providers to be registered or licensed (those states are Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia), you'll have to judge whether the setting is safe and sanitary.
Average annual cost $4,128-$9,508
What working moms say "It feels like a tight-knit family."
— Jennifer Latchford
"My son's day care was run by an Italian woman who spoke Italian to the kids (one of my son's first words was "Ciao!") and cooked Italian meals. The cultural exposure he received was priceless."
— Jo Ronneberg