Daycares — and Waiting Lists

daycare-waiting-listHow insane are the waitlists for daycares in your area — and how many layers of backup plans did you have in case you didn’t get in on time? What was your best resource for finding a good daycare worth waiting for — friends, parents’ listserv, neighbors, mommy friends, etc? When did you really start to get anxious about it, and how did you manage the anxiety? We’ve talked broadly about other childcare arrangements, but not specifically about daycares yet.

I’ll admit that I did little to no research on daycares in our area, relying almost entirely on the recommendation of one of my brother’s friends. Anyway, they recommended one specific daycare, which I toured when I was five months pregnant (around April 2011), and we were added to the waiting list for part time attendance.

After Jack was born and I figured out that I couldn’t do this “SAHM while blogging” thing, we notified the school that we’d accept a full-time position as well.

We got the call that there was finally a part-time spot for us in March 2013. TWO YEARS LATER — and bam, we were finally in daycare. Yeouch. (We found childcare in the interim through sitters and amazing family, and when we finally got into daycare we added it to the mix instead of substituting it for something else.)

How about you ladies — did you have to wait a really long time to get into your preferred daycare? When did you first sign up for daycare or start thinking about it generally? (If you’d include your general location and/or city, that would probably greatly help the discussion!)

(Pictured: WAIT, originally uploaded to Flickr by JBrazito.)


N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. I got an au pair when my kids were born. We have at least a one year waiting list here in DC. I finally got off the waiting list for one place after 3 years. Our preschool entrance is also a lot like the Hunger Games. I am grateful my twins won the lottery for public montessori at age 3. But an Au Pair was the way to go for us with twins and me having to go back to work 30 days after they came home from the hospital. I can see how an Au Pair might not be the best solution in Manhattan in a one or two bedroom apartment.

    • Momof2 says:

      Balletgirl1980, How was your initial 1 month with the au pair? I am having the hardest time getting her trained to care for one infant. I did not anticipate how big a challenge the language barrier and cultural differences would pose. Any advice would be most welcome.

      • It was a bit hard at first. She skyped alot and we didn’t rush her to speak too much. We also wrote everything down. We made a detailed host family handbook. Outlined what she was supposed to help with, her responsibilities and what her weekly schedule would be. Being detailed in writing is a huge help. I say this after 4 Au-Pairs.
        It was the best decision for us. We have loved every girl we have had.

    • Also curious to hear about au pairs! I had a friend who had them growing up, and loved it. It seems like a really good deal for school-age children, when paying two before and after school care fees would get pricey and potentially inconvenient. I hadn’t been thinking of it for a newborn.

  2. I got an au pair when my kids were born. We have at least a one year waiting list here in DC. I finally got off the waiting list for one place after 3 years. Our preschool entrance is also a lot like the Hunger Games. I am grateful my twins won the lottery for public montessori at age 3. But an Au Pair was the way to go for us with twins and me having to go back to work 30 days after they came home from the hospital. I can see how an Au Pair might not be the best solution in Manhattan in a one or two bedroom apartment and why daycare is a better solution. We also have a lot of in-home daycare options but a lot of times I felt they were a bit sketchy. Yet these had shorter waiting lists. I don’t know of any mom friends that walked up to a daycare place here in DC and was immediately given a spot.

  3. Momof2 says:

    Thanks Kat for this great topic.
    My second child could not be accommodated by my current daycare in time for my return to work despite us placing him on the waitlist shortly after my positive pregnancy test.

    We decided to get an au pair, who arrived 3 weeks ago from China. She is 25 years old but seems to be entirely new to toddler or infant care(contrary to the au pair profile) I feel like the last 3 weeks has only resulted in more work for me trying to train her to care for my children and help out my family. This and the sleep deprivation has made it very difficult for me to be patient with her and I find myself being very critical and micromanaging her.

    I am curious about others experiences with au pairs and infants.

    • mascot says:

      No personal experience with au pairs, but a close friend has one. She definitely had a bit of an adjustment period and had to give some very explicit instructions as to how she wanted things done. The family had several nannies before this and I got the impression that there was a bit more initial hand-holding with the au pair. Several months into it, things are going much smoother. I think her au pair is also plugged in to the au pair/ex pat community in their city which likely helps with bridging some cultural differences.

      To the topic at hand, we got on waiting lists when I was 4-5 months along. We never got off the waiting lists for the most in-demand centers, but we did get our top choice of the available ones. Infant care is hard to secure because the ratios are much lower for staff. When I had less than 2 months to find care for my child at 18 months, it seemed a little easier.

  4. Thankfully, the daycare centers in my suburban town had no waiting lists. Coming from NYC and seeing my friends and coworkers go through experiences similar to Kat’s, I panicked when we just started touring centers in my second trimester. Most of the folks we met thought we were super early! In a couple years we’ll be relocating to a more urban area (likely DC or NOVA) and I’m worried about finding daycare, especially since we likely won’t have a long notice prior to relocation.

  5. Just Karen says:

    I am in a mid-size city in the Midwest, and when I started calling day area when I was 12 weeks pregnant it sounded like there was no issue with getting into our top choices…so I procrastinated until I was 5 months along, at which time everywhere was full. We lucked into being able to get spots at two places that we liked (we didn’t know which we preferred, they were very different, but figured we would need a backup anyway). My little girl was born just over six weeks early (with no warning), so I have cobbled together babysitting to allow me to go in a few afternoons a week, but for the most part am just extending my maternity leave. I got a call last week from the daycare we had decided we strongly preferred, saying even though we were supposed to have a spot in March, that wasn’t happening. Hopefully April, but could be May… I freaked out a bit and explained that I’d already had to extend my leave six weeks…and we got a call back 15 minutes later saying that they had a spot open now that we could have, with her starting mid-February (don’t have to send her then, but at least be paying for it). We jumped on it and while it will be an unplanned thousand dollars, it will mean we can ease her in a bit instead of throwing her (and me) in to full time immediately. So it sounds like it will all work out, but seriously, why is it this hard? If demand for infant care is this high, why aren’t centers just opening more infant rooms?

  6. anon in bay area says:

    My husband’s employer sponsors a Bright Horizons center, so we had priority at three centers that were near us/his work. We put our names down at all three about two months before DS1 was born, and got into our top choice (this was in 2009, so demand wasn’t as great either). Since then we have had sibling priority as well.

    Our center explained to me that licensing where we are is different for infants (up to age 2) compared to preschool (age 18 months or 2 and up), so a lot of places aren’t interested in going through the additional licensing requirements.

    • Meg Murry says:

      Yes, one of the 2 excellent daycares in our area decided to drop infant care and convert the classrooms over to after school and summer care for older kids because it was less of a licensing headache and more of a moneymaker for the center since they could have so much higher kid:staff ratios with older kids

  7. Somehow I hit the lottery and just got a spot in daycare. I’m in northern VA and had my daughter in late November and planned to take a 6 month maternity leave. When I was four months pregnant DH and I got on the wait lists for four different places for full time daycare. They were well-reviewed and he toured one of them, and they are all close to our home. In the middle of January I started following up with them and found out there was no spot in sight for us. I panicked and started researching in home day cares and other options in my area. I sent an inquiry through the website of one of the Bright Horizons locations, not one of the ones we wait listed at but one still relatively close to our home and DH’s job and recommended by one of his supervisors. I got an email from the director the next day that they had an opening for an infant. I went in the next business day to tour it and wrote a check for the first month.

    Honestly, I think the director just decided to give us the spot and we leap-frogged over a years long waitlist. The daycare membership started this week and our daughter is only about 11weeks old. I’m having her go in for about 6hours per day for 4 days this week to see how it goes and ease into it, and I’m using the time to go to doctor appointments and take care of other things. It sucks that I had to start paying now to secure the spot, so early before the end of my maternity leave, and it costs a fortune- almost 2k per month. A full-time nanny would have been even more expensive and we don’t have any family here who can help us with childcare. I might end up cutting my unpaid maternity leave shorter than I planned.

    To others in this situation in the DC area, I recommend casting a wide net and calling and politely following up once you have your baby and doing what you can to get on the center director’s radar.

  8. CPA Lady says:

    I live in a mid sized city in the south, got on the wait list at 7 daycares when I was about 10 weeks pregnant, didn’t hear back from any of the places until I was on maternity leave. By that time, 2 of the 7 had a spot, and a third place called me the day before I went back to work to say they had a spot. It’s a good thing spots opened up, because I made no backup plans whatsoever. People here are serious about education, but daycares aren’t cut-throat feeders-to-Harvard like they seem to be in some large northern cities.

    I never considered getting a nanny or an au pair. This is probably really old fashioned thinking on my part, but the idea of a nanny is, to me, something that only super rich people have, and I think I would be very uncomfortable hiring one. That said, daycare is about $900 per month at the “good” center I got into, and a little less once she’s out of the infant room, so it would be pretty financially absurd for me to hire a nanny unless I had several kids.

  9. EB0220 says:

    With my older daughter, I put our names on the list and put down a deposit when I was about 12 weeks. We were first on the list and there was no problem with space. We moved when she was about 4 months, and went with the only decent daycare that had space in the infant program (it had just opened). When a spot opened in the toddler room at our top choice about 8 months later, we moved her there. I got pregnant with my second and put her on the wait list at my daughter’s school right after my 8 week appointment when we saw the heartbeat! We weren’t going to be able to get in until baby was 6 months or so, even with sibling priority. Ridiculous. Before my second baby was born, we moved to a new city and I started working at my company’s corporate headquarters. My baby got into company daycare, which is done by seniority and not when you put your name on the list (whew) and my older daughter goes to a school by our house (fortunately, preschool space isn’t as difficult as infant). Now I hope we can keep this setup for a while!

  10. My Boston area mom friends had warned me to get on a list as soon as I find out I’m pregnant (one recounted how you have to give the child’s name for the waiting list and she was like, uh… “Baby” LastName?).

    We actually toured a place that DH’s work gives a discount for, even though we’re not pregnant yet (I could tell the director of the center thought we were insane). It was good to get DH to understand why they’re $1500+ a month and crazy hard to get into.

    • anne-on says:

      Ha, we saw one Bright Horizons center in my HCOL northeast city that was $2k/month. My husband nearly had a heart attach. Thankfully our center now is about $1400, which is super reasonable in our area. Sigh, gotta love daycare costs.

    • Boston is not cheap says:

      We have our childcare in a Bright Horizons downtown in Boston. $2400 a month. And that’s CHEAPER than the infant rate which we were initially paying ($2900 a month). Completely insane, but it’s super convenient and we love it (as does my son). We’re paying just as much as we would for a nanny, but I don’t want to deal with the hassle of a nanny and being responsible for being an employer.

  11. In the Chicago suburbs. For both kids, got on the wait list at my favorite place around 3 months. Kid #1, I had to pay the reservation fee at 8 months in order to hold my spot, but it was there and waiting when I went back to work at 8 weeks. Kid #2 got sibling preference, but also had to pay reservation fee immediately at 3 months (center was full) in order to hold my spot.

    I asked my beloved center why they didn’t open a sister facility if demand was so high, and they said teachers are the shortfall in this area. Good teachers are being poached by school districts (who can pay more plus offer summers off) so they struggle to find enough teachers, esp in the infant and toddler rooms where kid:teacher ratios are so high.

  12. I reserved a spot at our number one choice but then had a call three months into my maternity leave (and about two weeks before we were going to start daycare) that even though I had put money down, there wouldn’t be a space for my daughter. We scrambled and found a new daycare that had just opened a second infant room and had plenty of space. I’m pregnant now with our second (they will be 14 months apart) and we are looking into a nanny or in-home care because we can’t afford daycare for two.

  13. Betsy says:

    Childcare related question re: how to find backup childcare when baby is sick and cannot attend daycare? Having trouble locating good, reliable people whom we would only occasionally need. Advice? Strategies that have worked for your family? TIA!

    • anne-on says:

      Is there a local nanny service in your area? Our pediatricians office/mothers group actually told us about a ‘nanny’ service we use for emergencies, which is basically short term certified/background checked sitters with varying levels of credentials depending on your child’s needs (CPR is standard, we almost always get nursing students due to my child’s medical issues).

    • anonymom says:

      Repeat from yesterday: There is a chain called Rainbow Station that provides backup care specifically for sick kids. We have not tried it but have heard good things about it.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you don’t get many responses here, you may want to check the posts from Monday and Tuesday of this week, when this issue was discussed.

  14. Excellent topic.
    I started looking when I was 5 months pregnant. I was planning to have Baby d in daycare full time beginning when he was 2 months old (so, 6 months in the future.) I took some recommendations from friends and also did some internet research of my own – I didn’t find a good ‘rating’ site, but I identified several that were at least in a good location. My initial list included 8 daycare centers. 2 of the 8 centers had spots available 6 months in the future, the remaining 6 did not. The longest wait list in my area (major Midwest city) for infant care was 20 months. Prices ranged from $300 – $525 per week for full time infant care.

    My mother volunteered to do the first round of tours. I provided her a list of questions to ask. She did the tours, took notes, and ranked the centers so then my husband and I only needed to tour the top 3 contenders. We both work full time, so this was a tremendous help.

    After our tours, our third-ranked choice was the only one that actually had a spot available when we needed it. We put down a deposit there, and paid $25-$40 to be placed on the waitlist of our first and second-ranked choice centers as well, just in case. Neither ever called and baby is about to turn 1, so I’m very glad we were able to find a spot somewhere. Baby d is very happy there, so even if either of those places call tomorrow I wouldn’t move him at this point.

  15. In House Lobbyist says:

    I am in a large southern city and we toured the “big” daycares at the large churches when I was about 3 months pregnant. Once place actually told us that it was a 6 year waiting list because they gave siblings preference so I don’t know why they even pretended to accept new babies. We ended up with a college aged babysitter/nanny for 3 days a week and my husband took over the other days and we never looked back. We started mothers day out when he was 1 two days a week/5 hours a day. I found the mothers day out programs much easier to find without any waiting.

  16. Burgher says:

    We are in Pittsburgh and started researching and visiting centers a few months into the pregnancy. With that much notice here, we were able to have our choice of any of the local centers. I assume in the more affluent parts of town there may be a waitlist for the “best” schools, but we didn’t have to deal with that since we are in middle class suburbia.

  17. We’re in Anchorage, AK. We chose to put our daughter into one of the centers on the local military base. You can’t actually go onto the list until the baby is born.
    Approaching 5 months, we still didn’t have a spot, so I started looking into their home-based centers. We found one spot and took it. About a month later, the woman decided to close down. Fortunately, we hadn’t taken ourselves off the waitlist for the regular centers, so I just kept calling them until we got in. (With the military priority system, you can get bumped down the list if someone higher priority signs up.)
    The military system has advantages once you get in: Low price (we voluntarily put ourselves in the highest income bracket rather than submit pay stubs, but pay around $145/week), sibling discount (though I imagine waiting for a spot to open up in a particular center will taken even longer than waiting for any spot).

  18. I toured centers at 7 weeks pregnant. I knew the wait lists would be long in DC, and I wanted to maximize my chance for my first-choice center. We placed our name on three wait lists, and two of the three called me with an opening about a month before I finished my maternity leave (which was about 5 months). I think it helped that I checked in throughout my leave–right after the birth, and a couple months into my leave–so that the centers knew I was serious about them. My mother’s career was in early childhood education and she directed me to and for help in selecting centers.

  19. Anonymous says:

    We put baby down for daycare during my second trimester. The daycare agreed to hold the deposit for three months at which point it would be forfeit if baby did not register. They also at that time charges us fee for “supplies, materials etc” which my kid as an infant doesn’t seem to get. We love our daycare though and are confident our child is well cared for and happy. If we didn’t get a spot at that one daycare I would have stayed home the full year and looked at options after the first year as to how I could bring my kid to work. A lot of bad daycares where I live.

  20. How timely! I was just in a fight this afternoon with a local daycare center we thought we wanted to use. I re-toured after the birth of our daughter and decided it was not for us. But they had required a $100/mo payment to keep our guaranteed spot, so we have been paying $100 a month since September to keep a spot for June, with the deposits to be applied to our first month’s tuition. We gave 4 months of notice that we won’t need the spot, and because they are so competitive I have no doubt that they will fill it. Nonetheless they are trying to keep the money we paid! If we had given little advance notice or if the daycare center was unable to fill our spot, I could understand it, but that is just not the case. So frustrating! I think I will eventually be able to strong arm them in to giving in, but WOW do these centers have the upper hand!!

  21. anonymom says:

    I had my baby during law school. I signed up on the waiting list for the on-campus day care as soon as I knew I was pregnant and got a spot when she was 4 months old. We also toured a number of chain day care centers midway through my pregnancy, and at some of them we could have secured a spot by paying a deposit of one month’s tuition.

    Before law school, I worked at a prestigious private college in a fancy Northeastern town. When I was first married, I inquired about how to obtain a spot at that college’s on-campus day care. I was told that they only took waiting list sign-ups during a very short window each fall, so I should sign up as soon as I knew I was planning to get pregnant.

  22. PregLawyer says:

    I posted on this a couple weeks ago, but I’m in PNW and toured daycares at 12 weeks (January 1). I put an application fee down to reserve a spot on the waitlist of my preferred daycare. They said it usually took families about a year to get off the list. Our desired start date is October 1, when the baby will be 3 months old. They told me that’s a good time of year because they start transitioning all the classrooms up in September when school starts. Consequently, they have the most openings in the infant center in late September/early October. That facility costs $1450/month for full time (7:00 am – 6:00 pm) care.

    We also got on the waitlist of another place that is a bit cheaper, but still $1390 a month. That place *almost* guaranteed us a spot for October 1st. They said that we were the first family on the list for that date, so it was pretty much a sure thing.

    My mother, who still works full time, is planning on taking the month of October off. Depending on when we get into Daycare 1, she will probably watch the baby in the transition period. If we need to have the baby someplace past October, we will likely enroll in Daycare 2 until our spot opens up in Daycare 1.

    In order to get this all worked out, it took HOURS of my time. Hours. I had to research facilities, call and get more information/schedule tours, tour, and make decisions. Daycare is stressful.

    • For perspective, we pay $1900/mo for infant care here in the Boston ‘burbs….and we do not use the highest priced center. Ugh. Good thing they are cute!!

  23. Boston suburbs here, we have 3 daycares in my immediate area. As soon as we got the 12 week ultrasound/viability testing, and were comfortable that This Baby Was Happening, I called all 3 of them and did a tour. We were told that we’d have no issue securing a full-time spot for our 3 month old as long as we did a depost “soon.” I put the depost down at the daycare of our choice when I was 16w pregnant, checked in when I was ~30 weeks pregnant to confirm things were still on track, then checked in again when I had a 2 week old baby to start talking about visiting, then visited at 2 months.

  24. I’m in Tokyo, where the daycare scene is a whole different story.

    There are public and private centers. Everyone wants their kids in the public daycares, but they only accept kids once a year, in April (with a few accepting up to 3 infants in October as well). And competition to get in is pretty brutal–they use a points system that ranks you according to your work hours and whether or not you have family around to help.

    Private centers accept kids year-round as long as there’s an opening. Some let you sign up when you’re pregnant, and some make you wait until the baby is born. There are no fees to be on the waiting lists, and you only pay an entry fee and tuition when you’ve been offered a place.

    The timing with my first kid worked out so that I went back to work in April. We applied and got into a public daycare. My second was born in May and there was no way I could take an eleven month leave until public daycare entry so I signed up for as many private center waitlists as I could as soon as I knew I was pregnant. She spent two months in a private center, then got into a public center in October.

    Fees are actually pretty decent. Private centers cost max $800/month for infants, and public ones charge based on your income. We pay $1200/month for fulltime care for a 3-year-old and a nine-month-old at public daycare.

    • Also want to add with regard to daycare in Tokyo: backup care is AMAZING.

      There are public ‘sick kid’ daycares with nurses on staff and doctors who come in on rotation. You pay about $40/day for those. And there are sick kid babysitter dispatch services who guarantee to send a qualified sitter the same day. My ward in Tokyo even has a subsidized service that sends a nurse to pick your feverish kid up from regular daycare and take them to the sick kid daycare. It costs maybe $50 total the pickup and sick kid care.

      Truly amazing.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I’m on the Westside of LA. I’m glad we didn’t live here when my child was a young baby because there is basically no infant daycare, aside from home daycares, which were not my preference, although I know other people love home daycare. We moved here when my son was about 1, and the few centers that accepted infants had 18 month plus wait lists. (Now 4, he is still on one of these waitlists..). The preschool scene can also be challenging, though not quite as bad due to higher ratios. In fact, we lucked into a spot at our preschool during the summer because another family had moved, even though we had missed the standard application process the preceding fall.

  26. Meg Murry says:

    In a small town, and for kid #1 both the daycare centers told me we could be on months long waiting lists, but then a few families moved out of town and we got in at the last minute for an infant. For kid #2, one of the centers had stopped taking infants, so our center was the only game in town, and the waiting list was apparently long – we got a spot only because of sibling preference. The daycare is a non-profit, and even a member of the board who had sent 2 kids there couldn’t get a spot for his 3rd baby until she was 9 months old since he no longer had a child there for sibling preference. It has actually made me strongly consider that if we are going to go for #3, we need to do so in order to have it before #2 is ready to leave for kindergarten, because we would then lose the sibling preference.

    There is another new chain center that is cheaper and (IMO) lower quality – much more of a “holding pen” daycare than preschool that just opened in our area, so most of the desperate families put their kids there as infants and then switch to our center once they are 18 months and can get a spot in the classrooms with space due to higher kid to teacher ratios. From what I’ve heard, its a fine enough place – kids will be taken care of, fed and safe – but it’s not amazing like our current school is, and they have a very high staff turnover rate.

  27. Daisy says:

    We live in Chicago. We were in a nanny share until our daughter was a year old, and then we realized the cost of a nanny would grow (raises, etc.) while daycare costs would shrink (as the child aged into rooms with more kids to teachers). We then began researching daycares and discovered that around 15 months things started to open up (again due to the ratio change in classrooms) and the wait lists were shorter than the insane 2 -3 year lists some infant rooms have at the in-demand centers. We got lucky that a facility we liked opened a new center and we were able to get a spot in the toddler room. I have heard that the wait list is quite long now and I’m hopeful that if/when we have a 2nd, sibling priority will help us.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I’m late to this thread, but figured I’d chime in anyway. I missed the memo with baby #1 that infant daycare around here (DC suburbs) is ridiculous. We put ourselves on the list at several centers when I was about 6 months pregnant, but did not make it to the top of any of them before DH and I were both back at work (in fact we STILL haven’t made it to the top of some). So we hired a nanny, which was expensive but convenient. Transitioned to a nanny share a few months later, which was less convenient and not much less expensive. For a variety of reasons, we transitioned to an in-home daycare when my son was a little more than a year old. I called around several places and found a few with openings for the next month — all were cheaper than the big centers, and obviously the waiting lists weren’t an issue… I don’t know why I didn’t think of that a lot sooner.

    Anyway, around that time, we found out I was pregnant with #2, and put BOTH kids on the wait list for another center we hadn’t considered the first time. Literally, the daycare center knew I was pregnant before my mom did. We should have a spot in that center this summer, a year later, and plan on taking it. Although I generally like my current daycare provider, I’m finding that with only a handful of kids, one or two kids leaving makes a BIG difference in my son’s experience. Right now he just has a tiny baby and two little girls keeping him company because one boy transitioned to preschool and the other boy his age is on vacation. Also, only one of the teachers is showing up because of how few kids there are, but she can’t take the bigger kids outside because of the baby (plus the girls would rather do art projects). That means a lot less running around during the day, which means a lot more headaches for me in the evening. no bueno.

    Oh yeah, and daycare for both kids at the new center works out to more than $33k per year. Still less than a nanny (and without the administrative headaches), but yikes. I can’t wait til they’re both in school; we’ll be rich!

  29. M in LA says:

    My firm sponsors a Bright Horizons daycare in downtown LA. So we get priority on the waitlist there — which is a huge relief. I still put my name down super early though, at about 12 weeks. For “community” individuals (i.e., their employer isn’t a sponsor), the waitlist is a whopping two years. Just goes to show that quality child care is an unmet need in DTLA. And, it is still very expensive.

    We also have a backup childcare benefit through Bright Horizons — 20 days of subsidized backup care for sick care, traveling, elder care, you name it. You might ask your employer if they offer this – it isn’t well publicized at my firm, although the daycare certainly is.

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