A full-time nanny or part-time sitter may not suit your particular needs or situation. You may not be able to afford in-home care. Or you may be unable to find anyone who meets your standards for in-home care. If, for any reason, in-home care won't work for you and your baby, you'll need to explore the world of child care outside the home. You will find two basic alternatives: Family day care and day-care centers.
Family Day Care
You may want to join a baby-sitting co-op or try your hand at forming your own. Co-ops are essentially family day care with rotating caregivers, including you whenever your turn comes up. You can ensure that every parent participates equally by employing a rigid rotation schedule. Or you could establish a system of credits that members earn by taking their turns at caregiving and "spend" by taking advantage of another member's services. (You'll probably need to set a limit on how deeply any individual member can go into "debt" before having to pay it off in services rendered.) Although it can be exhausting to take your turn, it's a small price to pay for having child care available when you need it.
A family day-care provider takes care of just a few children in her or his own home. (The number of children, including those who live there, should not exceed five.) The small size of this kind of day care can make it feel like a family. Smallness also allows more excursions-to a local park or playground or, if necessary, even a grocery store. Because the caregiver is usually a parent, too, the home will almost always be well-babyproofed. Last but not least, family day care is usually the least expensive child care option available, which is no small consideration to many working parents.
However, family day care, like in-home care, forces you to depend on just one person for care. If she or he can't do it for any reason, you'll need to cancel your own outside plans or commitments or find an alternative quickly. You cannot send your child when she gets sick either, and she will get sick because exposure to other children almost always means more colds, flus, and illness in general. Finally, most family day-care providers are not licensed-and therefore are not subject to any type of supervision or periodic review.
Center-based day care has the advantage of being almost always available. Because daycare centers do not depend on just one person to provide care, they don't shut down if one staff member gets sick. In addition, staff members are almost always trained and experienced. Because all day-care centers must be licensed, you'll know that yours meets at least the safety requirements mandated by your state. Spaces in child-care centers are often designed for a specific age group of children. Finally, if your employer offers an onsite day-care center, you can probably visit your baby (and perhaps even nurse her) during lunch hours or coffee breaks.
Unfortunately, finding a day-care program that even accepts kids under age one is difficult. (In fact, many day-care centers won't accept children who are still in diapers.)
Although center-based care doesn't cost as much as in-home care, it does cost more than family day care. The biggest drawback of large day-care centers, however, is their rigidity. Programs are often very structured, an approach that isn't suitable for most infants. Many large centers are also inflexible in terms of scheduling drop-off and pick-up times.