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When you have a big bump, sometimes you can be so focused on the birth that it’s easy to forget... this is the beginning of umpteen years of childcare.
Organising childcare can seem a long way off when you haven’t even decided how long your maternity leave will be, but trust me, it pays to be prepared. So, what are the options and where could you start?
Option 1: Nursery
Check with your workplace if there is an onsite nursery, or one subsidised for NHS employees. This type of nursery will often offer longer opening hours, and can sometimes give more flexibility to accommodate our awkward shift schedules. Good ones can be very popular, however, to the extent that some people join the waiting list before the baby is even born!
Make sure you visit on more than one occasion to meet as many staff as possible, and ask friends and colleagues which nurseries they recommend.
Option 2: Childminder
Childminders can only look after a certain number of children aged under one, at one time – this is limited by their Ofsted registration. If you’re lucky, you may find one close to where you live or work.
Option 3: Nanny
Nannies can look after your child in your own home. You could do a nanny share, where the nanny works for part of the week with another family, or where they look after both families’ children at the same time and costs are shared. There are various ways of organising nanny shares, and lots of websites where you can get ideas. Make sure you’re clear on what you expect the nanny to do from the start.
Option 4: Au pairs
Au pairs are very different from other childcare. They are not qualified in childcare, and should not be asked to look after children younger than three. Au pairs are usually students from abroad who live as part of the family, in order to improve their English and get to know a UK family. There are various rules about their employment, which you can read on the gov.uk website.
Other points to note
Don’t forget to look into childcare vouchers – this is a salary sacrifice scheme through your employer, and basically means you can buy childcare with your money before tax. If your practice doesn’t do it already, you can ask if they’ll set it up for you. You can start saving from the month that your child is born, even if you’re on maternity leave, so you have a stash of vouchers to offset the inevitably big childcare costs when you go back to work. It can affect your pension, however, as your pensionable pay is reduced. Child tax credits may be useful if you are on a very low joint income. Find out more here. The best thing to do is talk to other people locally. See what they recommend and what they recommend avoiding! Remember: there is no ‘best’ option, there is only the best option for your circumstances. No childcare arrangement lasts forever; at various stages you may end up using all of these options. Plan ahead – currently, children get 15 hours of free preschool from the term after they turn three, which really helps reduce childcare costs. The best preschools are popular, so get your name down early! In certain circumstances, two-year-olds may also be eligible.
Think laterally – unpaid parental leave is an option, though not that widespread in my experience. You would usually get a total of 13 weeks per child, though in some circumstances it could be more. Various rules apply, but it may be worth looking into.
My own childcare journey
I went back to work when my twins were 10 months old. I had been training part-time while pregnant, and returned on a part-time basis.
Nurseries where I live didn’t have long enough opening hours, and childminders were generally very busy and didn’t have two spaces. My mum kindly agreed to look after the twins until they were a year old.
After that, I started off with a nanny who looked after them when I was at work, and worked for another family the rest of the time. This was tricky as my working days changed with each rotation, and didn’t give me a lot of flexibility.
We got a different nanny when my children were two and a half, and they did some part-time preschool sessions too. Preschool only ran during term time, and we had hardly any choice over sessions as the preschool was so oversubscribed.
Now, over four years later, we still have our nanny. She’s doing after-school care now, as well as holidays and any time off school if one of the twins is poorly. She is so flexible and helpful, and makes my working life so much easier. She’s worth her weight in gold.
Written by a doctor in the south of England who now works as an ST3 GP trainee
Read more advice for working parents
How much did the nanny charge over the month?
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