Lyndsey Garbi, MD, is a pediatrician who is double board-certified in pediatrics and neonatology.
Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.
You want what's best for your kids, but can't always be with them to make sure they're happy, healthy, and safe at all times. So when you find a daycare or child care provider that truly nurtures your children, suits your schedule, and doesn't break the bank, it can feel like you're winning the lottery.
If you're considering daycare for your children, start here. Find helpful tips for comparing child care arrangements, managing health and safety concerns, and making sure your child is building important developmental skills when away from you.
The average monthly daycare cost for a baby in the U.S. is $1,230 in a child care center and $800 in a caregiver's home. Recent research found that middle-income families must dedicate about 18% of their income toward daycare. Fees may be higher or lower depending on where you live.
At a minimum, providers at daycare and child care centers are responsible for the health and safety of your child for a set number of hours. To be licensed and allowed to legally operate in most states, centers have to maintain a certain staff-to-child ratio and meet standards related to safety, cleanliness, and hygiene. But most quality daycare providers go beyond these basics to provide enriching activities for your child.
Besides freeing you to attend to work and other responsibilities, a good daycare program will help build your child's cognitive and social skills to help prepare them for school. Studies show that kids from low-income households who are enrolled in high-quality child care programs between birth and age 5 go on to get more years of education, earn more money, and have a higher quality of life than those who aren't.
Along with being pricey, daycare centers can be inflexible with the hours they can care for your kids, making it hard to swing if you work the night shift or have a job that starts early or ends late. Children in daycare centers are more likely to get sick with stomach bugs, colds, and other infections than kids who do not attend daycare (though that may help bolster their immune systems).
It depends on how much time you can take off of work, whether your partner or a family member can help, and what you can afford. You may need to return to work soon after childbirth to earn money even if your job is protected by parental leave laws. Many centers accept infants as young as 6 weeks old, but you may want to wait a little longer to part from your baby for long periods. Studies show that parents who waited until at least 12 weeks to go back to work reported being more in tune with their children and having a greater sense of well-being.
First, choose a daycare center that's licensed, which means it's legally bound to follow basic steps (like daily cleaning and diaper changing protocols) to reduce the spread of common daycare infections. Plan ahead so that your child's vaccinations, including flu, are up to date, and make sure they get enough nutritious food and sleep to keep their immune system strong. If you can, discourage thumb sucking and pacifier use, which can carry bacteria and are linked to certain infections.
Plenty of toddlers flourish in daycare. Many early childhood researchers say the first three years are critical in the development of social skills, and the high number of peer-to-peer interactions of most daycare centers can nurture that. A high-quality child care facility will also help a 1- to 3-year-old meet toddler developmental milestones, like speaking in short sentences, feeding themselves, and starting to scribble.
Babies who are happy at daycare tend to be happy at pick-up time and home too. It's a good indication they are getting enough rest, nourishment, and social stimulation during the day. Don't mistake initial drop-off clinginess with unhappiness: It's normal for babies to experience separation anxiety as they adjust to a new caregiver. Always check in with a pediatrician if you notice any worrisome behaviors in your baby or child.
One welcome child care trend is the growth of drop-in care options, in which your child can be supervised by a grown-up and do fun activities with other kids in a structured setting. Drop-in care is helpful when an unexpected work event comes up or you just want to escape for a date night. Check with your local daycare, church, health club, or kids' gym to see whether they offer drop-in care hours.
Daycare is a term often used to describe a situation where children are cared for while their parents are at work. It may take place in a center or in a caregiver's home. Many professionals in the field prefer the term child care to daycare because it encompasses a wider range of times when and places where kids are cared for when parents or guardians are busy.
Child care is any type of arrangement in which a child is cared for by someone other than a primary caregiver. Licensed and certified child care providers, family members, or friends can all provide child care, either in a center or at home, any time of day or night.
Persistent teasing, taunting, or physical aggression, like biting, can happen in instances of daycare bullying or preschool bullying. In fact, 20% of children ages 2 to 5 have been physically bullied, and it may be more common in early childhood than in the elementary school years. Talk to your child's child care provider if you notice your child starts to become wary of going to daycare or shies away from certain children, both of which are bullying red flags.
Child care or daycare safety relates to the protection of children from physical and emotional harm while they're cared for. Speak to your child's care provider about measures they are taking to reduce common unintentional childhood injuries, like falls from cribs or changing tables, as well as steps to keep your child feel safe, such as a commitment to using positive discipline and avoiding prejudicial behavior.
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U.S. National Library of Medicine. Day care health risks.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employee Benefits Survey.
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American Academy of Family Physicians. Babies and thumbs, fingers, and pacifiers.
Datler W, Ereky-Stevens K, Hover-Reisner N, Malmberg L-E. Toddlers’ transition to out-of-home day care: Settling into a new care environment. Infant Behav Develop. 2012;35(3):439-451. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2012.02.007
Extension Alliance for Better Child Care. What's the difference between child care and day care?
National Association for the Education of Young Children. Bullying in early childhood.
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