You’re weeks away from your baby’s arrival, and you’ve got your prep game on lock. Adorable onesies? Check. High-tech super stroller? Check. Dependable child care? Uh oh.
Whether you have a few childcare options in mind, or you’re starting at square one, we know that finding childcare can feel overwhelming. And while it’s never too late to find great child care, we’re here to tell you: the earlier you start planning, the better chance you’ll have at making sure your child care situation is exactly what you want – not just what was available when you needed it.
Babies don’t come with user manuals, that’s true, but experts suggest starting your child care planning as early as your second trimester.
“When it comes to planning ahead for child care, there really is no such thing as too early,” says Gretchen Richer, head of family experience at Vivvi. “From the labor shortage in the childcare world to the long, long waitlists for daycares (think 12 months or more!), there is a lot to consider and a lot to plan for.”
Since the early bird gets the child care, we put together a helpful list of things that might impact your child care search timeline.
Consider your location.
Where you raise your family plays a huge role in finding good, quality child care. Even if you live in major metro areas with lots of child care options, like New York or L.A., you may still live in what’s considered a “child care desert” – aka, there are not enough child care seats for the population of babies. Check around at your local daycares and find out the average waitlist time, then build your timeline backward. Keep in mind you may not need child care from Day 1; rather, your timeline should reflect the day you plan to return to work or need support.
Pro Tip: You may be able to gauge wait times by posting in your local parenting listserv. It’s also a great place to find nanny recommendations or potential nanny shares—and meet some new mom friends while you’re at it!
Plan for busy times of the year.
Here’s something you might not have thought about before you got pregnant: there are specific times of the year when finding childcare is even harder. Fall can be the trickiest time to find child care since CDC tracking shows that most babies are born between July and October. If you’re due during this busy season, start searching your local parent listserv for in-home caregivers or get your name on a list a bit earlier than you thought necessary.
Pro Tip: Vivvi’s in-home program takes the guesswork out of hiring a nanny, with full or part-time care for children 0-12. They can find and manage the entire process for you (including payroll and insurance!) or take care of placement only and let you manage the relationship directly
If you’re looking for center-based care, ask about waitlists.
As childcare facilities struggle to staff in the midst of a major childcare labor shortage, waitlists continue to grow and grow. If you are interested in a very specific program, get on that list as soon as possible. In many places, these waitlists can be up to a year long. Your first trimester is not too soon to get on a waitlist, especially if your baby is due in the fall.
Pro Tip: If the waitlist hasn’t opened up at your dream childcare situation in time for your need, stay on it anyway. You can bridge the gap with a different child care center or nanny until the waitlist opens or join a nanny share in the interim. Who knows, you may even like the alternative enough to stick with it!
Think about your work schedule.
If you’re eligible for and plan to take parental leave, you might not be thinking about locking in child care for those first 12 weeks or so, but it can be incredibly helpful to have a trusted caregiver in place before your return to work. Child care does not have to be used exclusively for your time at work; it can also give you time to sleep, shower, or spend important one-on-one time with the older children in your home. Beginning child care before you return to work can also help ease separation anxiety for both you and your new baby, by allowing you both to get used to a new routine and a new person in a more flexible way than just dropping off and hoping for the best on your first day back to work.
Pro Tip: Try starting with just a few days of child care as you shift into work gear, then add more days as you need them. Vivvi’s campuses welcome babies as young as six weeks and can accommodate 2, 3 or 5-day schedules.
Now that you’ve determined it’s the right time to start searching for child care, here’s how to make it happen:
- Make a list of childcare preferences.
Write down anything you can think of so you have all the options in front of you. Maybe this looks like child care facility #1, child care facility #2, nanny share, bringing in grandma, private nanny. Seeing your options written down will calm your mind and show you that you do have options.
- See which options fit your timeline.
Once you have a list of your ideal options, make phone calls or send emails to see which options are actually available to you. Childcare facility #2 might be on a 9-month waitlist, and if that doesn’t work for your family, you may have to mark them off. Continue down the list.
- Discuss each option with your co-parent.
If you have a co-parent, include them in the conversation. Talk through the pros and cons of your remaining options on your list, including finances, facilities, approach to child care, and even your gut feelings.
- Make a commitment.
As soon as you have made that decision, make a commitment. Securing your place with a childcare provider either through a signed contract or deposit will lighten your mental load to an unbelievable degree.
This article was written in partnership with Vivvi. Vivvi is reimagining child care and early learning for today’s families. We have five campuses in New York City, and our In-Home program brings exceptional caregivers into the comfort of your home in select cities across the US. At Vivvi, we meet families where they are.