Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all lived in extended communities where mothers were supported, spending the long days of child care together, caring for the babies with no thought of needing to return to work, but having a strong sense of community. Yes and no! For some of us the idea of staying all day with our babies sounds like a dream; for others the thought of not fulfilling our dreams of a successful career is not that appealing. Whichever camp you fall into (probably both if you are honest), within a few months or years of your baby’s birth, many women face the prospect of leaving their baby in some type of child care. The question is what is best for your baby?
There are five main types of child care that you may have the option of using:
Family or a friend – your mom or a friend may be happy to spend time a few days a week with your baby or even have your baby to stay every morning while you are at work.
- Pro’s: This is a wonderful option if your mom has the energy for a small baby or toddler. Your baby is familiar with the person. She receives one on one attention. Her signals are likely to be read with love and care which is essential for bonding and her emotional development. She is more easily kept in a similar routine to the one you have her in at home.
- Cons: If your mom is older she may find the pressure of a little one in the house again is too demanding. You may find yourself resenting the way things are done as they are slightly different to the way you would do it. Beware that it doesn’t impact on your relationship with the carer; you will need to be slightly flexible.
- Try this: Set up a flexible routine for your baby to make caring for her easier. Understand that not everything will be done the way you wish and be flexible about it.
Nanny or domestic worker – If you are lucky enough to have the option of having fulltime help in the home, domestic workers can be a great child care option.
- Pro’s: These wonderful caring women are sometimes the best carers for your baby as they respond very intuitively to your baby’s needs, playing patiently with them during their waking hours. Many of these women have brought up siblings and cousins in their extended family communities and understand babies’ needs very well
- Cons: Many of these women have little or no training and the care of a young child carries enormous responsibilities. You may feel jealous of the love your baby gives to this surrogate mom. You may worry about your baby’s safety if your nanny is not focused enough during the day.
- Try this: Get your nanny properly trained. Nanny training should include a first aid course, baby development and safety and hygiene in the house. Make sure your nanny has some opportunity to socialize with other nannies and babies – this will help her enjoy the time of child care more. Make it very clear that her primary responsibility is the baby, not the house work; as the pressure of cleaning the house and looking after a busy toddler may mean her attention is not concentrated enough.
Trained au pair – Au pairs are generally young women who provide excellent focused child care for young babies and children.
- Pros: These young women are in it for the love of children. They are generally very well trained and have a real interest in your baby. They are a very good option for early child care.
- Cons: Individual childcare by trained au pairs can be prohibitively expensive. The other negative is that au pairs rarely commit to a job long term. The risk is that your baby will become very attached to a person who will leave them within a few months or years.
- Try this: Choose an au pair who does not have plans to leave you in the short term. Have her sign a contract.
Day mother – Day moms care for two or more babies in their homes. Some day moms care for other people’s babies as well as their own.
- Pros: Your baby receives fairly concentrated attention. The day mom is caring for babies in the context of a home. Compared to crèche, the fewer number of babies together, do decrease chance of sharing germs and getting very sick often.
- Cons: Your baby will need to separate from you and may experience separation anxiety. Care is rarely if ever individual and your baby’s needs will be attended to according to priority bearing the other babies in mind. Even one more baby will expose your baby to a few extra germs.
- Try this: Spend a day with the day mom – seeing the way she is with other kids. Check her home very carefully for safety and hygiene. Encourage her to know and understand your baby’s routine and signals.
Creche – Many babies cared for by more than one carer.
- Pros: This is an inexpensive child care option. Some of the carers are well trained and love to be with young children.
- Cons: Your baby will not receive individual attention. She will not form a specific bond with the carer as carers may change according to the task. Your baby will be exposed to germs at a time when her sensitive immunity is just beginning to develop. Under three years old, your baby should not have more than one carer to four babies.
- Try this: Be very choosey with your crèche choice. No more than 4 babies per carer. Make sure the ceche is registered and conforms to the minimum standards.
Making the choice
Leaving your baby for any length of time will probably evoke feelings of separation anxiety in the both of you. Aim for the best possible child care to ease the guilt and help optimize the time you have away from your baby. As a rule of thumb, crèches are not often a good option for babies under three years old. Rarely will the ratio be four carers to one baby and if the ratio is right you will frequently find the carers swap around and your baby is not bonding with one person. Emotionally this is not a great option for your baby.
For young babies and toddlers, the best options include good day moms, nannies, au pairs or family.
Understanding that time away from your baby is something that may be a reality and is not something to feel guilty about, just focus on choosing your child care wisely and your baby will thrive.
By Meg Faure