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The Nanny Search, Part I: How to Begin
Turning your baby over to a nanny can be one of the most stressful experiences of early motherhood. Almost inevitably, you'll have concerns about whether a nanny will comfort your crying baby, shower your child with love and attention and respond appropriately in an emergency.

Confidence in the person caring for your child will go a long way toward easing your anxiety. Whether you're hiring a short-term baby sitter or a full-time nanny, it's important to find a reliable caregiver. What follows are the first steps: deciding what kind of nanny you want, the pros and cons of working with an agency and how to find candidates.

If possible, allow yourself plenty of time to make this decision. After all, no hiring decision is more crucial to the well-being of your child. Many women begin to search for a nanny while they're pregnant, particularly if they're returning to work in the early months of their baby's life.

Your first decision will be whether you want a nanny who lives in your home. A live-in nanny is more readily available for last-minute babysitting and is usually prepared to travel with your family. On the downside, unless you have a separate apartment for your nanny, you'll be sharing your personal space with a person whose ideas about music and social life may differ from your own.

You'll also need to consider whether you'd like to employ a nanny exclusively for your own child or whether you'd prefer to share a nanny with another family. Potential advantages of sharing include providing your child with a playmate and lowering your expenses. Disadvantages include the logistical challenges of coordinating your schedule with another family's.

If you're extremely busy, working with a nanny placement agency may make sense. For a fee of $1,000 or more, the agency will send you candidates whose backgrounds have been checked for problems including criminal records, bad driving and debt. You'll have a trial period during which the agency will find you a replacement should you fire the nanny.

One of the drawbacks to using an agency is the potential to feel pressured to accept a candidate. In addition, because no agency can 100 percent guarantee that a candidate will never harm your child, many parents feel they might as well do their own search. For about $200, you can hire an organization such as Search Your Nanny's Past or Nannybackgrounds.com to perform a background check.

Here's how to find potential nannies on your own:

1) Moms and nannies will be your greatest source of referrals. If a friend has a babysitter you like, ask that sitter for a referral. If you're a member of a moms' group, post your request on the online message board. Children's stores are another place to post your ad. Be specific about what you require: Non-smoking? English speaking? Driver's license?

2) Use your community non-profit childcare referral agency. These agencies have listings of caregivers, bulletin boards for job listings and handouts to guide you through the process.

3) If your community has a parenting network, check for listings of babysitters and nannies.

4) If you're considering sharing a nanny with another family, look for ads from other families or write your own listing.

5) Accelerate your search during August and September, a period of turnover for nannies as toddlers move to preschool.

My next article will discuss how to choose a nanny once you begin the interview process, and how to draw up an employment agreement.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist