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Childcare: a beginner’s guide

When you’re returning to work after having a baby, one of the biggest challenges is finding the right kind of childcare to fit your circumstances. So we’ve put together a mini guide along with some of the issues you might want to think about.





This is usually when your child is looked after at a childminder’s house, often with other children – either their own, or other people’s.

Pros = Flexibility, they won’t charge you if you’ve a good reason for being late. One person in charge means your child has a good bond with one set carer.

Cons = May not work during school holidays. Mixed age children, so may not be ideal if you’re worried about little Sophia learning naughty ways from seven-year-old Ted! Childminders get sick too, so make sure you have a back up plan in place if this happens.

We say: this is a great, often more economical – flexible option. If your childminder is prepared to be flexible and lives near to you, even better. It’s also good if you’re working locally, part-time or freelance.

Day nursery

This is where you take your child to a nursery. They are cared for in a room with children of a similar age where they are often assigned to a key worker.

Pros = A complete care service for young children often with the option to stay full or half days. Your child will be exposed to lots of other children, which can be good for their social skills. They also take part in lots of messy fun you may not have time to do at home. Usually open for most of the year including holidays.

Cons = Nurseries are very over-subscribed, so you may have to be on a waiting list for the best ones for over a year. Also, illnesses do tend to do the rounds – particularly when they first start. And you will pay for any time your child has off. Find out their late policy as some charge by the minute – not ideal if you’re relying on public transport to get you there.

We say: This is a popular form of childcare with standards varying from nursery to nursery. It’s best to visit a few before deciding – but don’t forget they may have a long waiting list. While you can always check their Ofsted report, it’s also good to follow your instinct, as what may suit one child may not suit another.


Like Mary Poppins, this is where you employ a childcare professional to come to your home and look after your children often on a daily or weekly basis. They don’t live in though – that’s an au pair.

Pros = A total childcare solution if you return very late from work or have to travel with business. Flexibility and the option for your child to develop a good bond with their carer. A cost-effective option if you have multiple children. Can collect child if they’re sick.

Cons = It’s expensive and can be tricky to set up at first. You will need to organise a contract of employment and pay their tax, National Insurance contributions, holidays and a pension. You have to place a lot of trust in one person but this can have great benefits in terms of consistency for your child.

We say: this option is ideal if you’re on the board of a company and need extra support to do your job. It gives total peace of mind – particularly useful if you are commuting long distances and can’t rely on being home on time. But they aren’t cheap and you will become their employer effectively.  We find nannies are in demand when both partners have high earning jobs in the city.

Au pair

An au pair is someone from abroad who lives in your house and minds your children as well as carrying out housekeeping duties – while they learn English.

Pros: Can offer great value for the hard working parent. Potential live in babysitter and someone to look after your child when needed. Combines childcare and housekeeping.  So if you’re coming home late and need a meal cooked, au pairs can usually do this.

Cons: Not always a qualified childcare professional, hence the cheaper price tag. You need a spare room and this may be tricky privacy-wise if you live in a smaller home.

We say: This is a less popular option as not everyone wants or can have their childcare option living in with them. But for some parents, it offers greater flexibility and support within the home. Trust is probably a key factor here, so self-professed control freaks may struggle with this option!


These days, it’s not uncommon to see Nanny and Granddad pushing a pram, a swing or even a trolley filled with little ones. So if you’re in the fortunate position to have parents who are willing and able to help you mind your children, you may wish to approach them about your return to work.

Pros: A family member is likely to invest energy and effort into bringing your child along – they won’t be competing for attention with other children. And they may not charge you a fee! It can help to make retired parents feel useful – and keep older grandparents nimble (within reason!).

Cons: If your parents need time off for sickness or because ‘something comes up’, you’ll need a Plan B. Consider what you’ll do when they go on holiday. May cause friction if you have different ideas about what is appropriate for your child, e.g. TV time or sweets. There are no contracts here, so also bear that in mind.

We say: grandparents are filling in as childcare more and more, but it’s not for everyone. Childminding isn’t easy, so whilst the money savings can be huge, consider whether your parent is agreeing to help for the right reasons (think also about travelling time and their age and ability), and whether it really is the best option for your child.

Think long-term

Once your fifteen hours of free childcare comes into effect (the term after your child turns three usually, but check with your local authority), there may be repercussions for your choice of childcare. For example, if you have a nanny or childminder, you may not be able to claim for the free hours when the time comes. Also, your nursery may have an agreement with your nearest local school offering wraparound day care, so it’s worth bearing this in mind for the future.

If you’re considering going back to work after having a baby and aren’t already employed, why not get in touch with us today. We’d love to hear from you.

6 min read