How To Choose Childcare When You Return To Work After Maternity Leave

For most parents making a decision about childcare after maternity leave is inevitable. Having gone through the process twice now here is my advice on what is useful to think about when choosing the right childcare.

Text saying: Returning to Work? How to choose childcare over an image of an open notepad
Returning to work after maternity leave? How to Choose Childcare

Helpful Advice on How To Decide What Type Of Childcare Is Right For Your Family

Do you want to go back to work?

The decision about whether to return to work is both financial and emotional. With my eldest I knew I had no choice about going back as we needed the money. I was earning a good salary, but more importantly I wanted to go back because I really enjoyed my job. If you don't like your job (my experience this time round) or you can't bear to leave your baby/ babies you might be prepared to make greater financial sacrifices to stay at home.

Can you afford to go back?

The cost of full-time childcare is high. Add in the amount it costs to commute to work (living in Essex I have to pay for parking at the station as well as the tube journey) and you might find that you are losing money. Unfortunately many families end up trapped because the cost of childcare can mean that going back to work isn't an option in the short term.

Is flexible working an option?

Your employer has to consider flexible working requests made due to childcare, but that doesn’t mean they have to approve them. There are some jobs which can be done part time, working from home or with different work patterns e.g. four longer days and 1 day off a week. Other jobs need you there at set times. Flexible working can allow you to save money on childcare and to have a better work life balance. Full time childcare is normally available from 8 to 6, but some nurseries offer 7.30 to 6.30.

A tube station at sunrise with a train in the station and people waiting on the platform. Taken after taking a child to nursery my chosen childcare after returning from Maternity Leave

Is your child happy to be looked after by a variety of adults?

Nursery is a great option for many and your child will be allocated a key worker to monitor their development, however there will be a number of staff who look after your child. Depending on the size of the nursery there could be 3 or more staff members in their room each day. The long hours mean that no single member of staff will be there all day every day, add in bank staff to cover sickness and holidays and there might be around 10 different people who regularly look after your baby. Yes, they will all be trained and yes, they will all be lovely, but if your baby finds new people scary this might not be the best option for them. A nanny or childminder will mean they form a bond with a single person who looks after them each day. This can be beneficial for them, but how will it make you feel?

Does your child like a lot of activity?

My eldest was a non-stop-always-on-the-go type baby. She loved to be around other children and to play with them. Nursery was great for her as there was a large group of similar aged children and they had a lot of activities. Childminders are currently allowed to care for up to 6 children at one time, numbers vary depending on ages of the children and if there are siblings. However the children cared for by one childminder may be different ages so there will be less focus on the routine and needs of your baby as they will need to fit in with the other children (e.g. if the childminder does school drop offs/ pick ups as well). You might find your child spends several hours in the car a day. A nanny (or nanny share where you can split the cost with a friend) means your child gets much more one on one time, it will be quieter and the activities and routine will be based around your child. 

Do you have family who can help with childcare?

If you are lucky enough to have family nearby they may agree to look after your baby. Many Grandparents love this idea, but the reality of having to commit their time to running around after a toddler even once or twice a week is hard work for most people. This means no spur of the moment holidays or lunches out (unless they are going somewhere child friendly). Most 60 somethings will struggle with this. The longer they have been retired, and the more used to having their independence, the bigger a shock it might be.

Do the childcare providers you like have space?

Nurseries and childminders are all different. You can check out their Ofsted ratings and reports online, but you really need to visit them to get a feel for what they are like. When I originally visited the local nurseries there was one I instantly liked; it just felt warm, friendly and nurturing. A year or two after my daughter started they received 'Outstanding' from Ofsted. They were the nursery most recommended by local mums and despite putting my youngest daughter's name down at 2 weeks old they couldn't guarantee her a full time place for her when she turned 1.

What is important to you when choosing childcare?

Whether you stay at home with your baby for one month or twelve there will be particular ways you parent and you will want to find childcare which has as similar approach as possible to you (this can particularly be a conflict if family members are looking after your child). Things to think about include:
  • Do you want your child to nap, eat and drink to a routine or on demand?
  • Do you do baby led weaning or are you happy for your baby to be spoon fed. While nurseries will encourage your child to feed themselves as early as possible they will often spoon feed foods like yoghurt initially for speed and convenience.
  • How do you want your child to be treated if they hurt themselves? Many of our accident forms from nursery stated treatment was a “cold compress and cuddles”.
  • How much physical contact are you happy with? I love that our nursery staff always gave my daughter hugs, it was the right supportive environment for her, but you might prefer somewhere more hands off. There are some nurseries which won’t even apply suncream to your child.
  • How do you want the staff to react if your child does something wrong? Or if another child does? Eg if someone bites your child or hits them around the head.
Make a list of what's important to you and ask the questions when you visit the nursery or care provider.

What is included in your childcare fees?

Some nurseries and childminders will include nappies, food (including formula if you want it), suncream, calpol and bedding as part of their cost. Others will expect you to provide some of these things or pay extra. Particularly if there is a different dietary requirement you might be expected to supply food. If a nanny is looking after your baby in your home you will be providing all these items, but on the plus side it is normal for a nanny to take care of cleaning and washing related to your child.

Piles of money

What childcare can you afford?

Prices vary hugely by area and are particularly expensive in and around London. Nannies are the most expensive and you have to take into account you are their employer so there is National Insurance, Pension and holidays too. Nurseries are normally more expensive than childminders and obviously family is cheapest. Less than full time care doesn’t necessarily save you a lot of money e.g. at our nursery going 4 days a week is only 13 % cheaper than going 5 days. 
Full time care currently costs just under £15,000 a year at our nursery, or £60 a day. Nannies cost a minimum of £10 an hour so will be double the cost of nursery. More information on costs is available here: childcare costs. 
There are 15 free hours available when your child is or 30 if you work enough hours, but the additional hours are accepted at all settings and there still tends to be fees on top. The free hours are only for term time although some providers will distribute the cost reduction across the year. I would suggest choosing what you can afford now and any discount in the future is a bonus.

Finding the right childcare for you is a balance between needs, costs, wants and availability. It can be a really tough decision and if you go back expect to have doubts about whether you have made the right choice. Leaving your child in the care of someone else does get easier and it's normally tougher on the parents than the child.

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