How to Find a Day Care

Question from Allison: I am 24 weeks pregnant and starting to look at day care options and feeling so overwhelmed with the prospect of choosing a day care and going back to work. Where do we start?! How did you guys go about choosing a day care? What did you decide was your top priority? Would you (or did you) go with affordability over someone you may have a connection with? Did you look into several day care centers, and if so, what did you specifically look for?

Hi Allison! It's so great that you are already starting to look at day cares. We didn't find ours until one week before Rooney was born! That said, you have plenty of time (although your baby to-do list probably doesn't make you feel that way!) and I would suggest not rushing into making a decision until it feels completely right. However, I do know how stressful it can feel until you have it nailed down.

Where to Start?

  • List your priorities. What will you budge on and what can you not? If you want an in-home, does it matter to you if they are registered? Does experience matter to you? Or ratio of children to caretaker? Do you want one closer to work or home? Honestly, we didn't know what we wanted, but now I'm glad we got one close to our home, but not too far out of the way of our commute. That's because sometimes I drop her off and then go back home to get ready for work. I would also recommend finding one that is close to your child's pediatrician (or finding a pediatrician close to your home). There are many times when we pick up Rooney from day care and go straight to the doctor's office. But I don't think experience, price or location matter as much to me as my gut feeling. Those things are all nice, but I would drive out of the way to bring Rooney to a day care that we felt strongly about rather than a convenient one that we had doubts about.
  • Ask for personal recommendations. Ask those you work with (and trust) who have young children, your neighbors and your Facebook friends. I got a few good leads this way.
  • Resource list. Iowa has a pretty good service for this, but I'm not sure about other states. There is also, but I think it may cost money.
  • Drive your neighborhood. We actually found our day care by driving through our neighborhood around 5 p.m. We saw a house that had lots of running cars in front of it and then Googled it. Since then, we've noticed another house just a few doors down that has parents dropping kids off in the morning. I'm considering seeing if that in-home can be our backup.
  • Take tours. We looked at three day cares until we found the one. I have a friend who looked at 50 (not joking). Tour as many as you need to make a decision you feel good about.
  • Pray! It's a tough decision, so don't do it on your own. Ask God to help you discern which day care is right for your family.

In-Home vs. Center

  • One provider means limited openings. If you find one you think you'd like but they don't have openings, ask them to notify you when they do.
  • More affordable ($30-35/day in our area)
  • Shorter hours (ours is 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., but they all vary)
  • Longer hours (more like 6:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.)
  • More expensive ($50/day in our area)
  • They most likely won't close for a day without advance warning

We toured a center and liked it (it had a gym!), but for little babies we liked the idea of a home setting. The infant room just seemed a bit...cold? I didn't really know what to look for, except for red flags. I tried to make a note of anything that seemed odd or didn't sit well with me. For this reason I would encourage you to tour during their normal hours so you can see how things operate.

Then we toured two in-home day cares. Which is more like an after-hours interview. Meaning, you probably won't get to see her in action, if you will. (If your kid went there, you wouldn't want her doing interviews during the day anyway!)

After the first one, I left in tears. It was not a good fit at all! Her kids misbehaved (and by misbehave I mean that one of them punched my pregnant belly!), and she was highly organized but not friendly.

After the second one, we left jumping for joy. We both just knew it was right and sent her the application the next day. Luckily, she was also one of the cheaper ones we looked into ($32/day).


I think it's sort of a double-edged sword to choose someone you have a connection with. It's nice to know your friend (or whoever) trusts them, and can give you another opinion about that person. I have a friend who loves her in-home day care, but I met the lady and would not choose her for my kid. So just know that you may disagree with your friends on this issue. Even if you have a good feeling, if things go wrong, it may get awkward. You just don't want to ruin a friendship or anything.

That said, if I had a connection with someone and really wanted my kid to go there, I would probably choose that over affordability. We didn't have a connection with ours, but I found out later that my friend (the one who looked at 50 day cares) interviewed her and liked her, but it was too far out of her commute.


Regarding whether you'll know if the place is safe or not, I'm not sure. Maybe I'm too naive about the whole thing. I think your gut will tell you when you walk in if it is the right fit or not. I know that's not the best safeguard, but I don't have any other tips on that...sorry! (Does anyone else have tips on this?)


Whatever you choose, you'll also probably need a backup sitter (or you'll need to take time off work). Our in-home provider gets 10 days vacation each year (not including holidays, which she also gets off), and I know centers have cleaning days or training days where they are closed as well. So, when our day care lady is on vacation, we will be, too, unless we find a backup.

Take Your Time

There are so many things to take into consideration! It's a tough decision. It can be overwhelming, but keep in mind that you can always switch providers if needed. Ours has a two-week trial period in case it's not a good fit. Even if you don't find a day care before she arrives, I think you'll be OK, and it's really best to wait until you find one that you're completely comfortable with. This person will be the primary caregiver for your daughter during the day. That is huge! Good luck!

Any other tips for finding a day care?


Also: how we transitioned to day care.