The “to do” list can be long for families preparing for the arrival of a baby. With the excitement of new clothes, cribs, toys and playpens, it is easy to forget to plan for child care.
But if a mother expects to go back to work after the birth, it is very important to start making inquiries early in her pregnancy. A mother who has six weeks of maternity leave will not want to wait until the child is born to look for child care. Most infant care centers have waiting lists.
A good place to begin looking for child care is the local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency. Ask them for a list of licensed or registered child care programs in the area. These programs have met basic state requirements for health and safety.
Many parents prefer a family child care home for infants because they are looking for a home-like atmosphere and small numbers of children. Others prefer center care and a more structured program. Your decision will be based on many obvious factors such as convenience or cost. However, it is important to pay attention to those “gut-level” feelings as well. Visit the child care centers you are interested in, and if something doesn't feel right, keep looking.
You will want to visit several programs to get a feel for the most comfortable atmosphere. Look for the following qualities of infant care.
- Infants need a warm, responsive caregiver who will help them feel secure by tending to their cries. Feeling secure encourages infants to try new things. Warning sign: Babies left crying for long periods of time.
- Infants should be held and cuddled during feeding. It is important to their feeling of self-worth and security. Warning sign: Babies propped up on pillows drinking bottles.
- Babies should be moved regularly so they see new things. Warning sign: Babies spending long periods of time in cribs, walkers, play pens or high chairs.
- Flexibility to accommodate a baby's natural schedule. Some babies need to eat more frequently and some will sleep more. Warning sign: Evidence of rigid or fixed eating and napping schedules.
- Caregivers talk to the babies. Even though infants cannot understand everything said to them, they will be learning many words in the months to come. Warning sign: Very limited or no interaction between caregiver and child during routine times such as diaper changing, feeding, etc. No evidence of caregiver talking, singing, or playing with child.
- An environment rich with color and sound to stimulate the infant's awareness of his or her world. Warning sign: Extremes of too much color and sound that may overstimulate infants, or too little color or sound for babies to look at or listen to.
- Space for young infants to kick and wiggle and older babies to practice crawling, pulling up, and walking. Warning sign: Rooms filled with furniture leaving very little floor space for playing.
Family Life Specialist
Iowa State University Extension
1086 LeBaron Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011