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Too Young for Childcare?

When Gail Greiner Stern enrolled her 10-week-old son in a childcare center, the New York City mother was nervous. "I was worried about SIDS. I wanted them to check him every 15 minutes," she says. "They knew he'd be all right, but I didn't."

Like Stern, many new mothers&nbsp— 1.7 million, in fact, or a full 57 percent with children who are under a year old — are now in the workforce, placing their most precious treasure in the care of others. And like Stern, many parents are worried about childcare’s effect on their baby’s social and intellectual well-being and how it will affect the infant-parent bond.

Over the years, research has delivered mixed messages about this relationship. However, an ongoing study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Development reported that childcare doesn’t threaten the bond between infants and their mothers, as long as a baby is getting sensitive care at home. Most experts agree, too, that infants can thrive in childcare under the right conditions, which include plenty of attention, affection, rich language experiences, and playful interaction with caregivers.

This type of quality care is generally easier to find in a one-on-one or small-group setting. But because of factors such as cost, availability, and flexibility, most parents rely on group care, where the child-to-adult ratios are higher. (The ratio recommended by the National Association for the Education of Young Children is one adult to three babies, birth to 12 months, in a group of six.) This means choices for quality care are limited&nbsp— but they do exist. What to look for?