Your Guide to Choosing Child Care for Your Baby

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
June 15, 2024

Figuring out childcare for your baby is tricky business! Choosing the right person or place for your baby to spend their days is not a decision to take lightly.

What are the signs of a good daycare center? What should I look for in a nanny?  How do I know it will be a good fit?

Whether you’re an expecting mama figuring out when and how to navigate these waters, or the mama of a baby who needs childcare, I’ve got you covered!

Today we’ll talk about:

  • Different childcare options
  • When expecting mothers should find a daycare or nanny during pregnancy
  • How to choose the right daycare for your baby
  • How to find the perfect nanny for your family
  • Specific questions/checklists to help you make the right decision for your family

Maybe you’re already leaning towards a nanny or a daycare.  Maybe you aren’t even sure what childcare option is the best for you yet.  Whatever the case may be, after today you’ll know exactly what to look for.

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What are my childcare options? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each?


Typically, if you decide to hire a nanny, the chosen person will come to your home every day (or part-time) to care for your child.  You will provide a routine for the nanny to follow.  You may also suggest weekly events to help socialize your baby.

Weekly hours and rates are agreed upon ahead of time, and you should outline expectations, sick time and vacation time too.

What to be aware of with Nanny care

  • Your baby will receive highly individualized care
  • Your baby will not have to adapt to a pre-determined schedule or routine
  • You will be able to advise activities, routines and meals
  • You will have ultimate control and choice over who your baby is in the care of
  • Usually more expensive than other options
  • May result in less “socializing” if your nanny does not attend community events or classes so that your little one can be around other babies/children
  • You will need to work around your nanny’s proposed vacation and possible sick time. Keep this in mind and discuss expectations ahead of time.

Daycare Centers

A Daycare Center is a public or privately-run facility.  Most are licensed and undergo regular inspections to ensure quality, safety, and compliance with regulations.

Teachers generally have certifications in early childhood education and are held to a standard by the center and director.  They typically offer a formal and structured environment.

What to be aware of with Daycare Centers:

  • Your baby will be socialized and will spend a lot of time around other babies and children
  • Your baby’s day will be structured and routine
  • Your baby will likely be in the care of people with training in early childhood education
  • Your little one will spend their days in a well-prepared and safe space
  • The teacher will need to adhere to standards and policies put in place by the center and overseen by the director
  • Usually more affordable than a nanny
  • May result in your child needing to adapt to or reach milestones (especially related to sleep) before they are developmentally ready

Home Daycare

Home Daycares may or may not be licensed by the state, but if you go this route, I highly advise choosing one with a state license.  Home Daycare owners may or may not have specialized training or certificates in early childhood education, so this is something to investigate.  Some states require a certificate to run a licensed home day care.

Because individuals are running these out of their homes, there is a wide range of normal.  Some are fabulous, and others are sub-par.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t use one but be sure to do a thorough visit.  Ask many questions before committing.

What to be aware of with Home Daycares:

  • Your baby will be socialized and will spend a lot of time around other babies and children
  • You may benefit from more flexibility than a formal daycare center
  • They may be more affordable than a daycare center
  • There may be a smaller child to caregiver ratio than a larger daycare center (though this is typically regulated by the state in licensed facilities)
  • Home daycares can vary widely in the degree of structure and environment they provide
  • There is no oversight or director checking for adherence to policies and standards

Family Member or Friend

Having a relative or friend watch your baby can be a great option for families who live close to relatives or have a trusted friend.  The care can be flexible, can take place in your home or theirs, and would involve less of a “leap of faith” than other options.

What to be aware of before utilizing relatives for childcare:

  • Your baby will be in the care of someone you know and love
  • You will not need to get to know and build a relationship with the person or people taking care of your little one
  • You may benefit from greater flexibility
  • There could be an issue with reliability and communication depending on the relationship
  • You may run into speedbumps by mixing childrearing and relatives (but also may not!)
  • Figuring out compensation may be tricky

When to find a daycare or a nanny during pregnancy?

If you are an expecting mama, I’m glad you’re here.  While looking for childcare during your maternity leave is doable if you have to, doing it ahead of time is definitely the way to go.  This is a huge decision and something that you want to have time to really research and think on.

You’ll also probably be surprised by the length of waiting lists for popular daycares.  It can also be challenging to find a wonderful nanny that is a great fit for your family.

When to start looking into Daycare options?

If you think a daycare is the best route for you, you should start researching and getting on wait-lists for different daycare centers as soon as you enter the second trimester.  Some of this will depend on where you live, but in many towns and cities, waitlists can be 9-12 months long!

That early on, don’t think of it as a commitment.  Do some research online, make phone calls and get on waitlists at places you like.  By your third trimester, you want to have your short list.  This is when you’ll do visits to centers that you are on the waitlists for.

Looking for support with this endeavor?

You’ll want to make sure to keep all your daycare choices and contact info organized along the way.  When it comes time to do visits, you should go prepared with questions and checklists to help inform your decision.  In addition to the guide below, you can find worksheets, checklists and questionnaires to help with this task in our Nesting Planner.

When to start looking into Nanny choices

Finding the right nanny for your family is going to take some time, and you’ll want to interview several candidates before making a decision.  However, you shouldn’t start too early, because nannies won’t necessarily be able to make a commitment that far in advance.  There also aren’t the waitlists involved like with a daycare.

For those reasons, you want to start putting out feelers, browsing nanny ads, and possibly creating your own ad during your third trimester.  Below, I recommend some of the top sites for finding nanny.

Is the idea of returning to work already getting you down? 

Read about how I was able to stay home with my baby by teaching online.

Your Guide to Choosing a Daycare

If you think that a daycare is the best route for you, it’s important to start researching and making phone calls right away.  You’ll want to figure out what hours of care you are looking for and exactly when you’d like your baby to begin attending.

Some daycares follow a school schedule and only enroll in September, but most have a ‘revolving door’ of enrollment as children grow and age out of the facility, become walkers, switch to one nap, etc.  This all has to do with state regulations on child to caregiver ratios.

In short:

  • Make phone calls to desired places
  • Give your date estimates
  • Ask to be placed on wait lists if applicable
  • As you enter your third trimester begin doing daycare tours of your short list

What is the difference between a daycare center and home daycare?

A daycare center is a free-standing, licensed facility that provides day care to infants, babies and toddlers.  It usually involves a group of caregivers who are overseen by a center director.

A home daycare is run out of an individual’s home where they provide childcare to infants, babies and toddlers.  Home daycares may or may not be licensed, so be sure to check that they are if you go this route.

Both licensed home daycares and daycare centers will have strict limits on how many infants they can care for, how many non-mobile babies, how many walking toddlers, etc.  This ensures safety and quality of care for your little one.  Therefore, getting on wait lists ASAP is so important.

What are signs of a good daycare?

While you should consider location, price and general impression, don’t let these factors blind you to possible red flags.  Richard Fiene is a PhD and Associate Professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University.  He compiled over 40 years of research into a list of 13 Indicators of a Quality Day Care Center.

Some key components of the list include:

  1. Constant supervision and good teacher-to-child ratios
  2. Teachers with degrees
  3. A safe and healthy environment
  4. You’re on the same page (good communication and partnership in your child’s development)
  5. A focus on learning
  6. High standards and a desire to improve

Daycare tour and interview questions to get you started


  • Do you have current state licenses?
  • What is the ratio of caregiver to children?
  • Do teachers/directors have early childhood education certificates?
  • What will sleep look like for my child here?
  • What supplies are included and what would I need to supply?
  • What safety measure and policies do you have in place for children at various ages?
  • What is the typical structure of the day?
  • Is there a safe and childproof space where my very young baby will be able to explore, have tummy time, and work on other developments?


  • What are the center’s hours and yearly schedule?
  • What is the rate?
  • Is there flexibility with hours, days and times needed?

You can find organized printable worksheets for completing these tours, staying organized and a more complete list of questions here.

What questions to ask a daycare provider for an infant?

Questions to ask specific to infant care should include questions about:

How do I find a home daycare? Or daycare center?

Because there is not federal legislation regulating the licensure of daycares, you will need to do research specific to your state.  However, there are some associations that provide accreditation to daycare centers.

Here are two great resources to start your search

Your Guide to Choosing a Nanny

Choosing a nanny is an exciting but potentially time-consuming task.  Not only do you need to find someone with excellent qualifications and references, but you also need to make sure that you connect with them well.

You want someone who is qualified and a perfect fit for your family

Your nanny will be spending a lot of time at your home and will almost become a ‘part of the family’ so to speak.  Of course, you’ll want to be careful to keep the relationship professional, but this person will be someone your child knows, loves and trusts.

I worked as a nanny for many years and am still in touch with many families who I nannied for.  We had open lines of communication and trust.  Because of this we built long-lasting relationships.

You will be building a unique relationship with this individual, so it is imperative to be selective and wait for the perfect match.

How to choose a nanny for a newborn? What to look for in a nanny for an infant?

Do they have experience with newborns?

If you are beginning your search for a nanny before you give birth, you want to have a good idea of the date range for when the position will begin.  For newborn care, you’ll want to ensure that they have experience in this realm and ask for references to check on this.

The possible exception here would be if the nanny has baby experience, and you would be willing to have them shadow you for a few weeks leading up to being alone with your infant.  This will help them learn newborn care and build your confidence and trust.  This would be a personal choice.

Are they comfortable with handling expressed milk? Or willing to learn?

If you plan to breastfeed, or even if you’re unsure of what feeding route you’ll take, ask about their comfort and knowledge of handling expressed milk, pace-bottle feeding, and feeding on demand.

What is their experience regarding baby sleep?

You’ll also want to find out specific experience with helping babies sleep.  Be explicit about your wants and wishes surrounding your baby’s sleep.

If you aren’t sure where you stand on this matter as an expecting mom, ask lots of questions about their philosophies or experiences with other families.

Emphasize that you are looking for a nanny with willingness to adhere to your wishes.

What are the best ways to find a nanny?

There are several ways to find the perfect nanny for your family.  I mentioned above that I spent a number of years nannying both part and full-time. I found amazing families from a variety of different resources.  For this reason, I encourage you to try out a few options to find the best candidate.

  • A professional nanny agency
    • While you will pay a premium to work with an agency, you’ll know that the nannies they have for hire have been meticulously screened. You’ll have an agent that will help you find the perfect match for you.
    • Typically, you will pay the agency and the nanny is on the payroll of the agency.
    • I found a position through a nannying agency when I lived in a large city. I think that if you live in an urban setting, it is worth paying the premium to get support with finding the perfect nanny.
    • If you live in a more suburban or rural setting the price tag of using an agency may not be a worthy investment
  • An online nanny database
    • This is a wonderful option for all families no matter where you live! Nannies create profiles on various sites, and often complete background checks through the site as well
    • Usually these sites involve an affordable monthly subscription for families to view nanny profiles and post their own “wanted” ads
    • Sittercity and Nannies4Hire are two excellent places to start
  • Word of mouth
    • This is a great way to find a nanny. Ask around to other mothers, friends, family members etc.  You never know who might know someone fantastic
  • Craigslist
    • I urge you not to be afraid of using craigslist! Two of the most wonderful families I worked with were families I found through craigslist.  They responded to my ads and we were perfect matches.
    • Be sure to ask for references and check them before doing an in-person meeting

What nanny interview questions should I ask?

Here’s a list of questions to get you started:

  • How long have you been a nanny?
  • Do you have any formal education or certifications that translate to your position as a caretaker?
  • What is your favorite part about being a nanny?
  • How would you plan a typical day?
  • Will you follow a schedule we layout to the best of your ability?
  • What are you some of your favorite activities to do with little ones?
  • How do you hope communication would occur between us in terms of daily updates, scheduling, highlights and challenges?
  • Did an accident or illness every occur while you were caring for children? How did you handle it? What would you do if one occurred?
  • Do you have experience with bottle feeding?
  • Are you comfortable handling expressed milk and or formula?
  • Are you familiar with the paced bottle-feeding method, or willing to learn from me?

Don’t forget:

  • Talk about your screen time and reading preferences
  • Share your stance on communication and updates during the day.
    • A notebook that tracks schedule is a great and easy tool, you may also consider using a “nanny app”
  • Be clear about your hourly requirement, need for reliability, and what you are willing to pay

Looking for support with this endeavor?

You’ll want to make sure to keep all your nanny candidates, their references and interview answers organized.  This will make comparing candidates and ultimately deciding a breeze.

You can find printable planning sheets that include the questions above as well as additional support with this task in our Nesting Planner.

Start your childcare search and get prepared for baby!

Are you feeling ready to begin your search?  Finding childcare for your baby is an important part of nesting.

Remember, if you think daycare is the right choice for you it is important to start researching and getting on waitlists immediately! If you are leaning towards a nanny, the third trimester is a great time to get started on your search.

Are you already feeling behind on the baby preparations? 

Don’t fret! Enroll in our FREE Nest Smart Crash Course today.  It’s a seven-day e-mail course that will have you completely prepared for baby in no time.

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