Tender Loving Day Care

Wondering which type of child care is best for you? Here's the inside scoop on 3 common options.


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.

Day-Care Center

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


The scoop Care is provided in your home by a nonrelative, on either a live-in or a live-out basis.

Pros Being alone with a single caregiver provides your child consistency and undivided attention. There's no need to worry about drop-offs and pickups or packing a lunch—a big time and energy saver. Plus, if your little one gets sick, there's no need for a backup plan.

Cons As a boss, you'll not only have to give direction and supervise the nanny but also deal with personnel issues, such as reprimanding her if she's constantly late. If she calls in sick or takes vacation, you may be left in a lurch (though many agencies offer temporary nanny services). And it's hard to keep a secret—a nanny's privy to all your family dirt. (Remember The Nanny Diaries?)

While some states do regulate nanny placement agencies, most don't require nannies to be licensed, which means there are no safety precautions. And unless you're philosophically OK with using a "nanny cam" to observe her, you'll never really know what she does while you're at work.

Average annual cost $14,560-$50,960 (live in); $15,600-$52,000 (live out)

What working moms say "You get 100 percent one-on-one care that you won't get in any day care." — Sarah Kearney

"My nanny knows my routine and my house—and while her first priority is taking care of my 3-year-old, she also finds time to do several loads of laundry, straighten up, make the beds and so on." — Dana Sullivan

Million-Dollar Baby? Let's face it: Child care isn't cheap—and prices can vary wildly depending on where you live and the type of care you choose. For example, in Massachusetts, the average annual cost for full-time care at a day-care center is $10,000 higher than in Louisiana or Kentucky. Likewise, you should expect to pay more if you live in a major city versus a small town. Typically, a nanny will cost you the most; a day-care center tends to be a bit more expensive than family day care.