If I had to do it all over again, I would have found a nanny share with a like-minded family and similar-age child. I went back to work when my daughter was 6 months old. She is not a good sleeper, and quite possibly the only way she would have gotten her 3 naps a day was private care. But it turned out I couldn't afford an individual nanny. Unfortunately, I took too long to figure this out. Coordinating with another family in addition to a nanny just takes more time.
The least expensive option if you have limited means is a home-based daycare. I don't know if the babies get all their naps in this kind of setting, but it's possible. You find these through The Children's Council. I visited every single one I could reach in my zip code and zip codes nearby. Many seemed very dodgy to me, but there are licensing requirements. I noticed if the children seemed calm and engaged. I noticed of the corners of the rooms were clean. And I noticed if there were TV screens in the play areas. To secure a good one, you need to book months in advance. Because these are people's homes and you don't really know what goes on there, it was important to me that they would allow me to drop in unannounced anytime. Many don't.
I'll write another post on looking for a nanny, because it's a whole different barrel of monkeys. Ditto for preschool.
The institutional daycares have different issues. Most have websites you can find through savvysource, google, yelp or Great Schools. You can always visit them anytime, and the conditions are highly regulated. As I mentioned earlier, the problem I had with ours was the naps. Babies were expected to keep the same schedule as the preschoolers. Another problem was with the breastmilk; I hear every place has this issue. I pumped every 2 hours in hopes of getting enough milk, but it was wasted in all kinds of ways I won't even go into. When I toured daycares again when she was 2, I amazed at how often the kids didn't really seem engaged or to be getting enough attention in the programs. This observation is highly subjective; so, go with your gut.
When choosing childcare, it's really important to be honest with yourself about the following:
- your work schedule
- locations that will be convenient for you, because you will be picking up and dropping off every day
- whether you can realistically provide food or if you prefer to have it included
- if food is included, are you comfortable with what it is (organic? meat? etc.)
- how much exercise and outdoor time will your child get, and will it be enough? Do you have a strong preference for an outdoor play area exclusively dedicated to your childcare or do you prefer/are you OK with a public park?
- what personal qualities do you value in caregivers? (warmth, creativity, the ability to carry a tune, languages spoken...)
- seriously, what can you afford? It's tempting to think "I will spend anything for my child be happy and get the best care possible." But isn't she better off if your household has some savings left in case you lose your job or worse (think family tragedy)?