How To Choose Childcare After Maternity

Whether you want to go back to work because you love it or you have to because you need the money choosing the right childcare for your family is essential. There are lots of different options available and which you prefer will depend on your child's personality, your finances and the hours you need to work. Here are some suggestions of what to consider when choosing childcare after maternity or paternity leave.

a baby looking out of the window to illustrate how to choose childcare when you go back to work after maternity leave
There are lots of childcare options, but how do you choose what is right for you?

How To Decide The Best Childcare Options For Your Family

Do you have the option of flexible working?

Companies have to consider reasonable flexible working requests from parents returning from maternity leave, but they won’t always be approved. Options include working part-time, working compressed hours (e.g. your normal hours over less days), changing your start and end time and working regularly from home. This can help you spend less on childcare.

Can your partner or family be involved?

Even if flexible working (or stopping working) isn’t an option for one parent, it might be an option for the other. More and more Dad’s are now taking on a regularly childcare role and it is no longer unusual to see them at playgroups. 

Grandparents can also be great for providing regular childcare and they often love the idea, but there needs to be a good understanding of the commitment involved and what will happen when they want to go on holiday etc. It can also cause some conflict if you have different styles of parenting.

What Formal Childcare Options Are There?

Do you want a single carer looking after your child or a group of carers?  At nursery they will have a designated key worker, but they are looked after by multiple people. A nanny, au pair and childminder will be a single carer.

A Nanny

A Nanny is the most expensive option and they look after your child or children in your home. They can provide a lot of flexibility and will be able to focus the day completely around your child’s needs. They will also normally do your children’s washing which is a definite bonus!  One way to reduce the cost is to share a nanny with a friend.

Au Pair

An Au Pair is the cheapest option if you have space for them to live with you. They offer similar benefits as a nanny, but at a lower cost. Unfortunately they often don’t want to stay more than a few months. 


A Childminder looks after a number of differing aged children, normally in their own house. They will have lots of toys and activities planned both at home and out. Your child will get to socialise with a small group of other children, but you have no control over the ages of the other children and they will need to balance the needs of everyone in the group. The number of children depends on their ages, but it can be up to 6 (in England) or even 10 (in Wales). Most will choose to look after less than the maximum though.


Nurseries which look after children from babies are normally open long hours and all year round (except Christmas), but there are also some options which will do term-time only or shorter days which might be a cheaper option if you work part-time or have help from family. Nurseries can get booked up well in advance so it’s worth getting your child’s name down early.  The main benefits are there are always lots of similar aged children to play with and you aren’t dependent on a single care provider so you don’t have to worry about the carer getting ill or going on holiday as cover is automatically provided.

If you are interested in nursery you can arrange to visit the local ones and put your name down for where you are interested in as soon as possible, If you would prefer a childminder, nanny or au pair you will need to see who is available in the months coming up to when they would start working for you. As schools in England are on holiday from July and children move up classes in September there are often more spaces which become available at this time of year.

What to check when choosing childcare

All formal childcare settings are regularly inspected by Ofsted (in England, different bodies regulate Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The reports are available online for you to read. These will give you an idea of the quality, but there are lots of softer measures that aren't always picked up in these reports. Often you will visit a setting or childcare provider and get a feeling that they are right for your child.

Think about what is important to you as a parent and ask how they would handle different situations eg do they cuddle a child when they get hurt, how do they manage naughty behaviour, do you want a strict routine followed, will they respect your approach to weaning?

Cost of Childcare

The prices of childcare vary hugely based on what type of childcare you choose, but different settings will cover different things in the 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 or pay extra. You might be expected to provide food, particularly if there is a different dietary requirement to other children.  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.

Financial Help With Childcare

Parents can claim 15 free hours childcare from the term after the child turns 3. If parents are earning enough they are entitled to 30 free hours. Parents on a low income may be able to claim free hours from age 2. These can only be used in approved childcare settings and not if family are looking after the child. 

If you are working it is worth looking into tax free childcare where you can avoid paying tax on some of your childcare costs. You can check here what help you can get with childcare costs. 

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