When it came time to decide what we would do about childcare as I prepared to return to work full-time after my first baby I found the experience quite daunting. Me and my husband had been my baby’s primary carers since she was born. It felt wrong to even think about leaving her with a stranger, especially all week.

Luckily my mum stepped forward to take her one day a week. This was a huge weight off my mind not only in terms of cost but also it was good to know she would be with family one day out of the five she wouldn’t be with me.

I read up on childcare options. One of the big pieces of advice was to look around as widely was you could before making a decision. To be honest I looked at just two nurseries. I skirted round the idea of a childminder but it just didn’t appeal to me. My worry was if the childminder is ill or on holiday your child ends up being cared for by someone they and you don’t know particularly well. I also preferred the idea of a team looking after her, so there is lots of people to step in and give her attention.

The first nursery I looked at was incredible. It was run professionally with a gorgeous outdoor space divided up for the different age groups. The menus looked lovely and really similar to what she had at home and I just got a good vibe from the staff. Each day staff set up a number of different areas in the room for sensory play, reading and other activities.

The second nursery I visited was grim. There was half finished decor which the manager told me she couldn’t be bothered to finish. I got the sense it was quite chaotic, that no planning went into the day at all and it just was not a place I would feel happy leaving my child. When I checked the Ofsted report, which I recommend you take into account but don’t solely base your decision on, that confirmed the nursery was pretty poorly run.

So it will come as no surprise when you hear I chose the first option. It didn’t come cheap at £66 a day four days a week. However I felt happy with my selection.

When it came to settling in visits I was so nervous about how my daughter would react to being left in a strange room. The guilt weighed heavy on me, how could I leave her when she was so young. I spent a lot of time reading online chat threads where mums explained similar feelings. All had nothing but positive things to say about nursery.

Despite my worries, there was no fussing, she took to it amazingly well. After the last of five settling in visits it was clear she was ready. So when day one of full nursery came I dropped her off calmly, watched as she toddled off to look at some toy animals and left her to it. I then sat in my car outside the building and cried. At home I thought about her all day. I called the nursery to check up on her. All was fine. She had even gone down for a nap. Finally at 3pm I couldn’t stand it any longer, I had to go pick her up early (I didn’t start back at work until the following fortnight).

After that first week it got gradually easier and easier to leave her. Then two days before starting back at work I found out I was pregnant again. I knew then my daughter wouldn’t be in full time nursery for long and this made me feel better.

However now she has been there for over a year and I’m back on maternity leave with number two my feelings about nursery have changed. My eldest remains in nursery two days a week to give me time with the baby. The guilt has nearly gone. I still feel bad on the rare days she says she doesn’t want to go. But mostly I see all the benefits of nursery. Plus when she does cry I just walk away and call her key worker when I get home. She has always calmed within minutes of me leaving so she’s easily distracted and clearly not that upset by it.

She gets to play with toys we don’t have at home. They do loads of messy play worth stuff like sand, water, shaving foam and jelly, which frankly I would never do in my house. They do drawing or painting every day. They have a soft play room. She loves their garden with its sandpit and huge range of toys. She’s made friends with other children and talks excitedly about what they do together.

Now I am thinking about returning to work in the new year and have put my youngest down for a place. This time however I have asked for three days a week for both children to help us cope with the cost and I am hoping to take one day off a week in return for extra hours elsewhere. If this 30 hours free childcare kicks in when Bubba Two is three next year that will be a huge help too. At the moment I’m staring down the barrels of a £1,600+ a month nursery bill, yikes!

To anyone worrying about sending their child to nursery I would say:

  • Research your options.
  • Visit places in person.
  • Think of questions in advance – things that matter to you whatever that may be. Food, how they deal with bullying, routines, sleep, staff recruitment etc.
  • Think of how being at work will benefit you. Grown-up interaction, doing something for yourself. If you’re happy then it makes you a better parent.
  • Enjoy the weekends and evenings you have together. Plan something special as it gives you something nice to look forward to, like a picnic.
  • Finally don’t feel guilty. I found the thought of sending her to nursery was far worse than the reality and actually it’s done her the world of good.