When you are enjoying your maternity leave work can seem like another world. It's really worth looking into your childcare options as early as possible though, so here are our top tips to get you started...
1. Ask around.
Talk to mums at groups, or in the park, speak to your health visitor.
See what people say about the different options available to you.
Maybe everybody raves about one nursery, but complains about another.
You can make up your own mind but it's helpful to arm yourself with the general consensus!
2. What is best for your child?
You might be lucky enough to be able to afford either a nanny, a childminder, or a nursery.
If so, you can start narrowing your choices down by thinking about your child and what they like to do.
If you have a confident and boisterous young boy who loves playing with other children perhaps a nursery would be the best place for him to spend his days.
If you have a shy boy who is happiest doing quiet activities in the home, you might decide one-to-one care is best for him with a nanny.
Or if you think he would appreciate being in an environment more similar to home but with other children he could do well in a childminder's house.
3. What suits you?
Don't forget to look at childcare options near your work as well as near your home.
Check what happens during the school holidays and what happens if you are late collecting your child?
What is the procedure if your child is ill?
Of course money is a big consideration for most families.
Look into prices and what each of your options provides as part of their price (do you have to send your own nappies for example).
If you need childcare to be flexible a childminder would probably be better than a nursery.
4. Check the internet.
Have a look at the Directgov website which has lots of useful information about childcare local to you.
You can also look at Ofsted reports of nurseries, and of childminders if you know their unique reference number.
Almost all childcare providers (apart from nannies or tutors or babysitters basically) must be registered with Ofsted if they care for children under the age of eight.
5. Go and visit.
Ask for a tour of a few places you are considering.
Check the kitchen, the outdoor space, the bathroom.
Is it clean and bright? Is there a nice selection of toys in good repair? What is the furniture like?
What activities would be available to your child?
Ask about the food - are you happy about what would be served?
Take a list of questions that are important to you and make notes as you go round.
It's easy to forget which place was which once you are back at home after a day visiting different sites.
6. How are they with your baby?
On the tour if the childcare provider just talks to you, and doesn't acknowledge or say hello to your child - beware.
You want somebody who is interested in children and generally friendly towards them.
Waving a toy at a nine month old while you talk to their mum and dad should be the least of a good childcarer's multitasking ability!
7. Talk to the staff.
What are their qualifications? How long have they been working in childcare and how long at this establishment?
Check the references of any nanny you are considering hiring.
If there is a high staff turnover at a nursery it could be a sign that people are not happy.
What is the staff to child ratio? Do the carers have similar ideas to you on looking after children?
8. Look at the other children.
Are they having fun? How are misbehaving children being disciplined? Are any sad children being comforted quickly and effectively?
Some nurseries split children into different rooms by age, others keep them all together, which would you prefer?
Think about who the other children are and whether yours will fit in well.
A fantastic childminder with two five year olds might not be the best place for your 18 month old to make friends.
Ask what would happen in the case of an accident or an emergency. Does everyone have first aid training?
You can ask to read their health and safety procedures too.
Do you have any concerns about the venue after your tour?
If your little girl has food allergies, eczema, or asthma how would they deal with this?
10. Go with your gut instinct.
At the end of the day, if it doesn't feel right, you won't be happy leaving your baby there in the mornings before heading off to work.
Parents need to find a place or person that they can trust. You don't want any worries at the back of your mind.
No matter what the other mums in your neighbourhood or Ofsted say you really have to have a good feeling about the place or person that you pick.
Good, and even great, childcare providers are out there, you just have to find the right one.
Don't rush your decision, it's an important one!