Friday, May 27, 2011

Choosing a Child Care Provider

According to the CDC, nearly 66% of infants in the United States are cared for by someone other than their parents on a regular basis, half in child care centers and the other half in home-based care (child care provider or family member).  In the past, Kerri has written about her experience going back to work after the birth of her daughter, Jen B has provided tips for deciding if you should bring your baby to work and tips to make working with baby easier, and Jen G posted information about secondary caregivers of children in various countries around the world. Given that so many babies in the US are cared for outside of the home, the majority of parents must take on the important and daunting task of finding a child care provider whom they trust with their young child. It can be hard to know where to start when making such a significant decision. What questions should you ask? What should you look for when seeking a trustworthy caregiver or daycare center?  In today’s post, we will examine some vital questions to consider while searching for a childcare provider or center for your baby.

  • Don’t wait too long to start looking for child care for your baby. Many centers have a lengthy waiting list that could be a year or more in length – though it may seem premature, getting on the wait list while you’re still pregnant is necessary for some centers.

  • If you are pregnant or have a newborn and are considering childcare for your infant it can be helpful to make a list of questions and important things to look for before touring the centers.  A list can help ensure you don’t forget your questions!

  • Before committing to any center, tour it without your baby so you can observe the teachers without getting distracted by your own baby.  If possible, arrange to visit during a snack or lunch break - pay special attention to how they accommodate younger babies who are not yet eating solids while the older infants are eating.  If you feel comfortable with the provider, go back with your baby one more time and plan to spend at least an hour to observe.

  • If you are breastfeeding, you will need to find out how breast milk is handled at the childcare facility.  Many centers require you to bring the milk in bottles, and other centers may accept it in bags. Ask if the milk can be brought frozen or just refrigerated. Also make sure to inquire about how the milk is heated (milk should be heated in warm water, NOT in the microwave because it can cause hot spots that can burn the baby). The center may have specific ways they would like the milk to be labeled so that there are no mix-ups! 

  • For breastfeeding moms, find out if there is a private place for you to nurse your baby at the childcare center. If you work nearby, you may decide to come to the center at your lunch break to drop off more milk or to feed the baby yourself.

  • Ask the providers how they know when to feed a baby.  Do they only use strict schedules or use crying as a sign of hunger or do they look for other cues? How do they determine when a baby is full or finished eating? Also, once you choose a provider, don’t be afraid to tell them how your baby shows hunger and fullness cues. 

  • Ask about how the facility handles multiple babies’ feeding and napping schedules.  Do they want the infant to conform to their schedule, or does the center adapt to each infant’s schedule?  This may be an important aspect that contributes to your decision choose a provider or to keep looking.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. During your visit, pay attention to how other infants are put to sleep and discuss how babies are positioned to sleep with the provider to be sure that this recommendation is followed.

  • Help your provider by sharing how you know your baby is drowsy or overstimulated. This will make the first few weeks easier until the provider gets to know your baby and can pick up on the cues herself. 

  • Ask about the provider’s policy about parents calling to check on their babies.  There may be some times that are better to call than others and just a quick over-the-phone confirmation that your baby is doing well can ease your mind. 

Remember, there are many childcare centers; if you don’t feel comfortable at one, keep looking.  Don’t feel like you need to settle on one because it’s convenient or close to your home or work. There may be other options available that more closely meet family’s needs. 

Placing your infant in childcare can be a difficult transition for both you and your baby.  Working with your childcare provider ahead of time can make the process easier for everyone!  

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