It’s estimated that both parents in almost 60% of U.S. households are full-time employees. Meaning that once maternity and paternity leave has ended for parents of newborns, they’ll need to find child care for their brand new baby. One option that’s become popular among new parents is enrolling in a newborn day care. Around 40% of children under a year of age attend non-parent day care — but selecting the right facility for your newborn’s needs can take time.
Here’s what to know about newborn day care and how to decide if it’s the best option for your family.
What is newborn daycare?
Newborn day care refers to the non-parent care of an infant that’s at least six weeks of age. There are two main types of newborn day care options: child care centers run by a staff of professionals out of a dedicated child care space or in-home day care run out of a provider’s home, often with other children.
Child care centers for newborn day cares are the more formal option and must comply with state licensing requirements. This is often a more structured option, with children’s designated drop-off and pick-up times. Infants that attend a child care center for day care often do so with children of other age groups, which means they’ll interact with a variety of children and caretakers throughout the day.
Family child care homes are still required to meet care requirements on a state-by-state basis, but these requirements are not the same as formal childcare centers. The structure of family childcare for newborns is less structured, but this may mean more flexibility for parents regarding drop-off and pick-up times. This option is often more affordable than enrolling a newborn in a childcare center.
Deciding which option is right is a personal choice — one that Dr. Jack Maypole, a pediatrician based in Boston, Massachusetts, says takes time. “With so many options to choose from, this is not a decision parents should take lightly,” Maypole says. “Through careful, extensive research and consulting with trusted sources, parents can glean useful information that will help narrow down the best facility for their newborn.”
For Kristina Tinsley, a working mother of two in her 30s living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, starting her search when she was three months pregnant helped her secure a spot at her childcare center of choice. “We selected a mixed-age day care that incorporated a range of ages in a renovated barn house,” says Tinsley. “The location had two floors, with the bottom level designed for naps, younger baby play and a restroom. The upper room was full of light and had a kitchen, a mixture of toys, tables, high chairs and open space.”
In addition to choosing an environment that felt welcoming and safe for her baby, outdoor activities and socialization were important factors in Tinsley’s search. “The owners were big on learning through outdoor play,” she says. “They had a great outdoor play space and a garden the kids used. I loved how they incorporated the babies in with the toddlers, making it feel more like a family.”
How much does newborn day care cost?
The cost of newborn day care will vary depending on where you live and your chosen facility. On average, a child care center costs around $226 per week for one child. For families looking for more definitive numbers, using a child care cost calculator like this one can help zero in on expected costs.
How to find a newborn daycare center that’s right for you
Finding the right newborn day care option is a process that’s unique to each family and child’s needs. In addition to reading reviews, speaking with staff and scheduling time to tour the facility (ideally more than once), Maypole encourages parents to trust their intuition.
“It is difficult to isolate any one thing to avoid in a child care center, other than an urge that parents should trust their gut check as they tour a center and reflect on how [they] feel when they get home,” says Maypole.
He advises asking yourself questions like:
- Does the staff seem professional and caring?
- Are the facilities well-kept, tidy and hygienic?
- Do families feel welcomed and treated as respected partners in their journey?
- Will it work for the household schedule, lifestyle and budget?
For Tinsley, getting clear answers to questions on how her baby would be treated each day was key. “As a parent, you want to ensure the place you pick can clearly communicate with you how much food your baby has eaten, how long they have napped and when, and any concerns,” she says. Her list of questions for day care facilities included:
- What is the child-to-teacher relationship?
- How do you determine when you feed the babies? Do you record the feedings and amounts?
- How do you handle heating frozen breast milk? If my baby doesn’t finish a bottle, do you save it for later or discard it?
- What type of communication should I expect about my baby’s day?
- What is a typical day like for a baby?
- Where is my baby going to nap?
- Can I see the space my baby will be spending their time in?
- Can I meet the staff that will be looking after my baby?
- What are the rules around a sick child?
In addition to these questions, Maypole encourages parents to review the experience of the staff members that will provide care to the infant and check to make sure the facility is state-licensed and accredited.
“Gather your information and do your analysis,” says Maypole. “It may involve making a chart or spreadsheet and making a list of pros and cons.”
He also encourages parents not to hesitate to call references the child care center provides. “That will give you much more of a real deal perspective,” he adds.
To ensure the decision is not rushed, Tinsley urges parents to start the search as early as a few months into pregnancy. After all, as she notes, “Spaces are limited, and you want to find a place that you feel comfortable with.”