A New Orleans mom’s guide to daycare

Because we both work full-time, we had to navigate the tricky world of daycare selection in New Orleans about one and a half years ago. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was totally lost when we first started looking into options. I found that there were not as many choices as I was hoping for, and figuring it all out was more complicated than I was anticipating. After talking to several other moms in the area, I discovered that I was not alone. I’ve compiled some advice and guiding questions to hopefully make daycare selection just a little easier. If you have any ideas to add, I’d love to hear them!

Baby’s on the way – yay! Now what?!?

  • Get thee on lots of waiting lists. This may sound crazy, but it is never too early to put yourself on lots and lots of waiting lists for daycare in the New Orleans area. It doesn’t really matter if the daycare director knows you’re pregnant before your husband does. Put your name on as many lists as possible and figure out the best fit later.
  • Visit your preferred daycares unannounced. If you have time, drop by a few daycares unannounced to take tours. Yes, I know that some ask for you to call ahead, and yes, I know that some ask you to make appointments. But you can gain really valuable information by dropping by unannounced, and if they can’t accommodate you for a tour right then, at least you will see how they respond to your visit. Are they friendly? Welcoming? Warm? Understanding? If not, it’s likely you may not feel comfortable with the daycare anyway. Do be considerate when thinking about when to drop by (i.e avoid obvious drop-off and pick-up times. Mid-morning is likely a safe bet.)
  • Enjoy your pregnancy. Once your name is on a few waiting lists, try not to stress or worry about childcare for the rest of your pregnancy. I know that this is easier said than done, but everything WILL work itself out. It’s hard to know how you’ll feel after the new addition to your family until he/she arrives, so it’s not worth stressing about. While a tad nerve-wracking, it’s not terribly uncommon to head into maternity leave without a spot at daycare.

Your child has a spot – hallelujah! How will you know if it’s a fit?

  • Consider your daily routine. What will the commute be like? Even though New Orleans traffic is nothing like Manhattan or LA, it can take quite some time in the morning to get across the city. I recommend driving the route and testing the routine at the time you’d be making the drive just to make sure it won’t add too much stress. I had to make the Metairie to uptown commute for 6 dreadful weeks last fall and soon realized that there were no less than 10 school zones between our house and daycare. Not fun.
  • Check the daycare’s exact schedule. For example, what are the exact hours and on what holidays do they close? Are fromTWA2there certain days/holidays throughout the year where the daycare closes early? Does the daycare run a “camp” in the summer or is it truly a year-round daycare? If the daycare does run a camp in the summer, how will it be staffed (i.e. are the teachers the same year-round, or do they change)?
  • Determine if the daycare will accommodate your personal parenting choices. How much food, if any, will you be able to provide from home? Will the daycare allow you to bring (or will they purchase) organic milk (or yogurt) when you get to that stage? How are nursing mothers accommodated during the day? How/where is breast milk stored? Do bottles have to be pre-made? Does the daycare provide wipes, sunscreen, diaper cream or any other products, and if they do, would they be willing to use yours instead, if desired? One thing to know is that not all requests are possible due simply to state regulations or logistics, but it’s still helpful to get a feel for the way a daycare will work with you in those early months.
  • Meet the teachers. One of the most helpful things for me was actually spending time in the room at daycare before Thatcher started. It allowed me to get to know the teachers and the routine. Ask the teachers how long they’ve been there, how long they have been working with that specific age and just try to get to know them. It may be a flag if teacher turnover is high or if teachers are constantly changing rooms. Also, be sure to ask the director for the teachers’ credentials (both background and experience, as well as things like First Aid and CPR certifications). It’s also wise to ask whether or not the daycare follows any sort of curriculum or daily schedule. Do they just “wing” every day, or is there a set routine? Are all babies/children put onto one schedule, or does baby dictate what he/she needs?
  • Understand how decisions are made. It’s natural to focus mostly on the room in which your child will initially be placed. That said, your child(ren) will eventually move rooms. Be sure that you understand what the teacher to child ratio is in each room (and at each age) and that you are comfortable with when children move rooms. Some daycares move children when they hit certain milestones (e.g. sitting up or walking) whereas others simply move children at the end of each school year. Ask these questions in advance so that you’re not taken by surprise when a change to your child’s routine is made.
  • Read the policies and procedures. Most daycares should have a handbook for parents. Ask for a copy and read it thoroughly. How often does the daycare practice fire drills? What happens in emergencies like tornado watches? (I once panicked during a terrible thunderstorm when I realized that I didn’t know where they’d take the kids in the event of a tornado. Oh, the joys of worrying as a mom!) What are the security measures for visitors and individuals who come to the daycare for drop-off and pick-up? For what incidents will they call parents? Can you leave the infant carrier at school if mom drops off and dad picks up, for example? Are the teachers required to get vaccinated for things like the flu and whooping cough? How often and for how long do the children play outside? Are there any TVs (or DVD players) at daycare, and if so, when are they specifically used? Will the children ever be taken off campus for walks, and if so, when and why?

Now what in the heck does baby need at daycare?

  • You’ll feel better if you are over-prepared. I probably send “too much” to daycare, but it makes me feel better and that’s important. Thatcher has extras of everything he could possibly need (diapers, wipes, sunscreen, diaper rash cream, clothes, loveys, etc). Of course, it’s important that you check with the daycare about how much space they have for your child, but don’t feel bad about sending anything to school that would make your child feel comfortable. In the very beginning, I actually bought extras of our favorite swaddling blanket and pacifiers, as well as a second Sleep Sheep, just for daycare. I wanted Thatcher to feel as comfortable as possible, and I didn’t feel guilty about it for a minute.
  • Purchase labels for everything. A couple of great resources are InchBug and Name Bubbles. It’s better to over-label than to have stuff go missing because the cost of replacing pacifiers, sippy cups and bottles can get expensive! The Baby Face Band is also a super creative way to label sippy cups since toddlers are capable of recognizing their own image but not reading their name quite yet.
  • Consider bottle transportation. If you are nursing or have to bring pre-made bottles, you will be really happy if you invest in one of these BUILT Neoprene 6-pack totes. Yes, it is for carrying beer, but we could not have lived without this because it prevented bottles from spilling in the car on the way to/from daycare. If and when you move to formula, I found this formula dispenser really helpful for transporting his formula.
  • Remember seasonal necessities. Many daycares offer water play in the summer, but our climate is generally mild enough for year-round outdoor play. Make sure that your child has appropriate seasonal clothing, as well as “extras” like hats, swim diapers, bug spray and coats for whatever season we may be in.

It’s not just about baby!

  • Ease back into work, if possible. I remember being a nervous wreck for the first few days Thatcher was at daycare. Would they know what he needed? Would they respond to his cries? Would he get enough to eat? Would he be able to fall asleep? Would he miss us? I think that all of these feelings and emotions are totally normal. I actually ended up bringing Thatcher for a few hours a day during the last few weeks of maternity leave. Part of me hated this because it was our last few days together, but it was super helpful at the same time. I also arranged to leave early for the first few weeks back at work so that I could pick Thatcher up at a reasonable time. Some people suggest starting back to work on a Thursday to give you only two days before a much-needed weekend together. All of these strategies can help make the transition easier on baby and mom.

    Enjoying Easter at the beach during maternity leave

  • You will cry. And it’s normal. Regardless of when you enroll your child in daycare or school, it’s going to be emotional. Some tears are to be expected (and we’re talking about mom here!) If you’ve done your homework and are confident in your choice, give it a few weeks before doing anything drastic like changing daycares. But I don’t recommend going back to work the Monday after Mother’s Day and also baptizing your child on said holiday. Trust me on this one.
  • Network with other working moms. This truly saved me on multiple occasions. Seek out moms with whom you work, or ask your friends if they can connect you with another working mom. Just talking to people who understand can really help because you are likely to find the first few days and weeks rough at times.

A condensed version of the information from this post is available here, and we hope you find it helpful!

Is there anything else that you’d add to the above list? What has been the hardest part about choosing a daycare for your family, and what did you consider when selecting yours?

14 Responses to A New Orleans mom’s guide to daycare

  1. Jenn August 13, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    What a great article! It’s definitely helpful whether living in NOLA or not. Did not know you were born in Houston!

  2. Karen August 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Great post on choosing a daycare. Lots of good information. Though I am a grandmother, this is very helpful information to pass to new moms.

  3. Julie August 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    I wish I would have had this information a year ago! My little girl is turning 6 months soon and I remember having so much anxiety and confusion during the whole process and right before she started day care. I know many new mom’s will find this so helpful! I can relate to it all and thanks so providing this information. It is extremely helpful!

  4. Courtney August 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    This is a great post – very comprehensive. I will definitely share it with other new moms!

  5. Lindsay August 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    This post is so well written, Ashley! Y’all are doing a fantastic job with this blog- thank you!

  6. Jessie August 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    Thatcher and my son have the same birthday! 🙂 Wonderful blog–what a resource!

  7. Jennifer September 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Great advice! I did a Facebook poll and asked my friends which daycares they recommended from experience. Then I narrowed it down to 3 near my house and work ( I live one mile form work). I read that it may be better to choose a daycare closer to your work instead of your home so that you have more time with them even if it is travel time and it’s nice to be able to sneak away at lunch time to peak in or nurse your baby.

    I only ended up visiting one daycare because I fell in love with it. I arrived unannounced and they gladly gave me a tour. They introduced my to the staff and answered any questions I had. I also asked several parents in the parking lot if they were happy with the daycare. My son has been very happy there and is moving to the crawl room next week! Time flys by and I am sure to cry again Monday when I bring him to his new class!

  8. Rebekah May 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Thanks for the info!!! I’m 14 weeks right now and just started thinking about infant care. My problem is that I live in Luling but work in the CBD, so I’ve been struggling to determine if I should focus around home (where I have lots of family support) or work. I appreciate Jennifer’s comment about it being “…better to choose a daycare closer to your work instead of your home so that you have more time with them even if it is travel time and it’s nice to be able to sneak away at lunch time to peak in or nurse your baby” – especially about nursing the baby!! However, I work from home a couple days a week, which will make things challenging, but I guess on those days my hubby (who also works in the CBD) can bring the baby in.

    I found a few places in the CBD and garden district that I’m going to check out. Thanks for the tip about showing up unannounced – I never would have thought of that!

    Wish me luck….

    • Ashley May 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

      So glad that it was helpful – let me know if you have other questions!!

  9. Mindy April 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    I have been searching daycares for when we move there in June. My son will be 2 1/2…i have noticed the rates are almost double what i pay in Texas. i am used to paying 320 a month, but he also doesn’t go on Mondays but nana will not be in NOLA for baby jake on mondays, but $600 a month for a 2-3 year old is ALOT! Any ideas on a less expensive daycare or even a in home provider. Or care.com….anyone have any luck there. Jake is my 4th and last baby, but i have always worked in child care so my other kids were free, do you know if there are discounts for employees if i choose that route when we move. Any advice or contacts are greatly appreciated!

  10. Jim Berman January 28, 2016 at 7:56 am #

    Does anyone have an updated list of Day Cares in the NOLA area?
    My wife and I have a 2 and 3 year old and are looking for a new facility.
    Any input is helpful.
    Thanks..

  11. Krisie December 6, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    I am looking for free prek 3s in Marrero.

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