Returning to work after having a baby can be a daunting prospect at the best of times. Will you still be up to speed in the office? Can you get there in time with a baby to get ready in the morning? And how do you maintain an air of professionalism with a lump of regurgitated baby formula on your freshly dry-cleaned suit?
But perhaps the key one is; will you have peace of mind when your child is in someone else’s care?
Leaving this little person you have tenderly loved and cherished for the first few months of its life is one of the hardest parts of going back to work. And what every parent wants to know is that someone else will be giving their child the same level of care they had with them. In essence, it boils down to choosing the right childcare.
For most parents, childcare choice is a minefield you are forced to cross before reaching the office. Do you go down the route of a nursery with full-time care from breakfast to bedtime? Or is the home-setting of a childminder more appealing? Perhaps, a nanny or an au-pair devoted to looking after just your child is the answer.
A good first port of call is your local council’s Family Information Service (FIS), which can offer advice on every type of childcare for all ages. Mary Atkins, planning and information manager at Wandsworth Council’s FIS, tells parents to looks out for clean, safe premises, trained and experienced staff, fun activities planned for each day and a big welcome for you and your child. Asking for references and listening to your child to see if they are happy in a setting is also very important in her opinion. She said: “One size doesn’t fit all in childcare. Know your child and trust your instincts.”
For some parents, a nursery seems the most appropriate option if they have a long working day. Mother-of-two Sarah Marshall, from Southfields, chose a nursery for her first child Susie when she returned to work. She said: “I chose a nursery for Susie because it had wrap-around childcare and offered an 8am-7pm option.”
But second time around with son Daniel, she went for a childminder. She said: “The advantages of a childminder are it’s a more intimate setting if you have a timid child and it can be more flexible.”
Laura Digby-Bell, from The Gardens Childcare Group, own and runs three nurseries and a nursery school across south west London with business partner Sarah Bokaie catering for youngsters aged one to five. She believes nurseries have the edge if you are looking for a sociable and stimulating environment for your child. She said: “A child is never on its own with one person in a nursery. “Children tend to socialise more in a nursery and they get a range of different experiences through the staff working there.” According to her, a well-run nursery should have a decent building, staff continuity with good levels of experience, plenty of activities for the children and a nutritional menu. But above all, she added: “You have to feel comfortable with it when you walk in, otherwise it’s not right for you.”
While the National Childminding Association says childminders are the answer for parents looking for flexible care. Usually, there will be at least one other child for your offspring to socialise with and siblings can stay together. Children participate in “real-life learning experiences like cooking, shopping, mealtimes and outings to the park” and “childminders can be spontaneous – making the most of a sunny or unexpectedly snowy days as a great opportunity for outdoor play”.
They are also, like nurseries, regulated by Ofsted so you get a clear picture of the quality of care from the last inspection.
Putney parent Rachel Waite decided on a nanny when she went back to work following the birth of her second child Evie because it was more cost-effective.
And when it came to choosing the right candidate, she said: “I was looking for someone who had a natural affiliation for children, that you could clearly see was kind and caring and loved being with the girls.”
This is a sentiment backed up by Emma McCarthy, who runs well-established Wimbledon agency Gina’s Nannies.She said: “It’s all down to the chemistry. It’s just as important that you get on with them as which childcare qualifications they have. “Gut feeling has a lot to do with it.” Having been in the business for a number of years, she thinks a nanny could be the answer if you are looking for someone who fits in with your child’s routine and requirements. She said: “The great advantage to having a nanny is, no matter what, your child will always come first. “You have a nanny on hand to do things your way, geared to your routine. “And should you child be ill, unlike nurseries or childminders, the nanny will take over the care so you can still go to work.”
Like a nanny, an au pair may be the right choice for parents wanting someone to live-in and look after their children. Typically, they are part of a cultural exchange and so will not necessarily have any childcare qualifications. And host families are expected to provide full board and pocket money in exchange for childcare and some light housework. But the British Au Pair Agencies Association says a settled au pair can be” joy to have around” and recommends using a reputable agency when looking to find the right person for your family.
Ultimately, the advice from parents and experts alike seems to be when choosing childcare be guided by your gut instinct. If it feels like the right thing to do, then it almost certainly is.