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Stay Home or Work: How Moms Can Make the Best Choice

It's a hard decision -- and could ultimately be one of the biggest decisions you'll make as a new mom. We're not talking about natural birth, circumcision or breastfeeding. It's the big question you've probably already been bombarded with: "Are you going back to work?"

There are so many factors to consider, often mainly monetary. But ultimately you have to weigh your desire to continue in a career you may love against your wanting to be your child's sole caregiver. Working can fulfill a need in some women that nothing else can. And there are many perks to working outside the home. You can stay in more constant contact with other adults, support your family's income and remain a vital player in your field. That extra money you're bringing in can provide your child with great things: a top preschool, fabulous family vacations, cars still under warranty, organic foods, you name it.

But there is a trade-off. Leaving your baby can be heartbreaking, and once you're home, your "second job" begins, with joyful parts (hugs and kisses) and the more tiring parts (making baby food and cleaning spit-up).

None of this is to say that staying home with your babe isn't equally rewarding -- it totally is! As her primary soother, cuddler and caregiver, you will know her better than anyone else, and you'll be around to chart every developmental milestone -- however big or small -- and to create a warm, nurturing environment. Staying home allows you to be your child's first teacher, and your time at home can be used to expose her to the things you love: art, music, the outdoors, cooking. When she's sick, you're available to take her to the doctor -- without taking a day off work.

Days alone at home with a new baby do have a downside, as most things do, especially if your baby is colicky or you have other kids. Hours can be long and draining -- and there are times when you may find yourself counting the minutes until someone arrives to help out. Stay-at-home moms can sometimes feel isolated. If you choose to stay home, you'll want to form a network of mom friends for advice and support. You might also want to seek out local parenting groups or Mommy & Me or Gymboree classes to keep connected further. These special friendships will be key to offering you support and social outlets.

Whether you go back to work will depend in part on whether you can afford to pay someone to care for your child, in which case you'll need to find a responsible, loving caregiver or a safe, nurturing daycare center at a price you can afford. Some mothers find that the extra money shelled out for childcare is too big a blow to her paycheck. The decision is not one-size-fits-all.

Of course, these days it doesn't necessarily have to be one or the other. Working from home has become an option for many mothers, and more companies are exploring flex-time for their employees. So if you're torn about your decision, talk to your boss about whether these options could work in your situation.

In the end, ask yourself whether you're cut out for full-time motherhood, and be honest with yourself about your answer. A happy mom makes for a happy baby, so it's important to make the decision that is right for both of you.

What are my child-care choices?

For the most part, it's "in-home care," "family child care" or "center-based care." (If you're lucky, you can get Grandma to take care of him.) Each option comes with pros and cons, even the Grandma gig.

Your own Mary Poppins In-home care essentially means having a nanny. The care is convenient and personal, and because it's in your own home with only your baby in attendance, it tends to be less "germy" than group settings. The downside: Nannies can be hard to find (ask for personal references), cost a lot and leave you without a backup when she's sick or on vacation.

Home away from home Run by individuals in their homes, not yours, family child-care providers offer a homier atmosphere than a group day-care setting and may cost less than a nanny. You'll want to know how many kids are in the home daily and whether the caregiver is licensed. Again, if the caregiver is sick, you may be out of luck.

A centered center Most day-care centers are independently owned or run by churches, schools or government programs. They usually keep regular business hours and have plenty of licensed, certified staff. But your baby will likely be exposed to a lot of germs, and the more bells and whistles, the bigger the price tag may be. On the plus side, he'll also likely be exposed to many educational opportunities. Some even teach foreign languages and sports.

Call ChildCareAware at 800-424-2246 or visit childcareaware.org to find licensed providers in your area, to learn about your state's licensing requirements, and for a quality day-care checklist. For in-home care, check out local parents' groups, community organizations and local colleges.

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