Itty Bitty Babies: Ups & Downs of Au Pairs for Infants (and new Host Parents)

by cv harquail on June 18, 2010

[[I’m delighted to share with your a Guest Post from a regular contributor, Dorsi. Dorsi noted that she hasn’t seen much on the blog about infants and offered to share her reflections. Reading her post brought back so many memories of those tender first days of being a mom and having to look like I knew what I was doing! How about for you?]]

I always knew I would have an AP when I had children.

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I was looking at prospective candidates when I was 5 months pregnant. I matched with our au pair before I bought a crib!

As someone who had been an exchange student in high school, the program sounded perfect: friendly foreign girl gets to stay with us, experience America, provide stable child care and we get to share our fun and fantastic life, as well as the difficulties of having a baby, with an enthusiastic peer. Additionally, we had a fairly erratic schedule and normal day care options didn’t work for us. Luckily, the baby came at a time when our finances could handle the AP program fees (in our area of the country, APs cost significantly more than infant care).

While I don’t know everything there is to know about APs and babies, I now have a toddler and have had some time to reflect on the experience. It found it provided better child care than I could have hoped for, but was more personally challenging than I expected.

My AP started when my baby was 2 months old.

Advantages of an Au Pair with an Infant

-Decrease in Illnesses
This has been touched on recently in other threads, but keeping the baby out of public spaces, especially early on, has a tremendous impact on the number of illnesses the whole family experiences. I think the AP program trumps all other forms of child care on this front. Even though my AP went out in the world, we still had less exposure to pathogens than other forms of in-home care – even bringing a college student, grandmother, etc. into out home.

-Breastfeeding
I have friends and colleagues who have had many battles with day care over how much to feed the baby, how often, and if they should supplement with formula and rice cereal. Those moms who have had successful long-term breastfeeding relationships and who work outside the home, know that it takes a lot of cooperation on the part of the caregiver. My AP didn’t have a lot of preconceived ideas and followed my instructions easily. Also, when I need to sleep (I work swing shifts and nights) or do other things around the house, the AP could get me to feed the baby and then I could go back to what I was doing.

-Avoidance of Separation Anxiety
Though we had days where the babe preferred the AP and days were she preferred me, we never had to go through the stage of leaving a screaming, unhappy child at day care. The AP was just part of our household flow and handing off responsibility was seamless.

-Easing into the AP program
Having an AP can be fraught with issues (thus the existence of AP mom), as well as joy. As first time parents, we were able to avoid some of the big ones:
– Driving – baby has no need for being driven anywhere, so we happily selected a non-driver.
Role Model – this is not an aspect we worry about, babe is not going to be influenced by AP’s eating habits, dating/partying, etc.

-Travel
I found it easy to take my breast fed baby on a handful of work trips when she was small and not so mobile. It wasn’t too expensive to buy an extra ticket for the AP, and travel was fairly painless with another set of hands. With my toddler, I don’t know that there is the same ease and value with taking her places, but it was another way that the AP simplified my life with a newborn.

-All the usual advantages of the AP program
– flexibility, no missed work because the baby is too sick for daycare, one on one care.

Disadvantages of an Au Pair with an Infant

201006181307.jpgWitness to parenting struggles
When my babe was born, I had several ideas about sleep training, pacifier use, solid food introduction, scheduling, etc. Like most new moms, the ideas have changed. When we decided that letting the baby “cry-it-out” a la Ferber was the right thing to do, I also had to convince the AP (and live with her silent judgment). This may be a non-issue for a lot of people, but having another person see you change course, contradict yourself, and struggle made things harder for me.

-The “three month rule”
APs are not allowed to be alone with infants less than 3 months of age. I worked evenings when the AP started, so she provided care only when my husband was also home, or I was home sleeping. For people with a more typical schedule, this wouldn’t have been possible. Occasionally we had a grandparent or a friend who would hang out at the house for an hour or two and supervise the AP in the beginning. As much as this was a hassle—I do think it is good policy. Someone who is new in this country (and maybe doesn’t have tons of time with tiny babies) should not be alone with a fragile newborn.

-Isolation (for us)
We know very few parents socially and the AP program hasn’t helped with that at all. We also get no feedback from experienced child care providers. While this is sometime nice (no one to tell me that we should start solids sooner/later) it would be nice to hear how others are solving the problems we are dealing with. This may be a fantasy of having a great day care community that wouldn’t really exist. The AP may offer ideas on nap scheduling, but they are usually fairly inexperienced compared to other child care providers.

-Isolation (for AP):
Babies don’t do much and we didn’t have anyone that the AP knew for play dates. Couple that with the difficulty of scheduling around naps – I think there were some very long days at home with the baby alone for the AP. This worked out okay with our AP, but could have been a significant problem for some APs.

Surprises and Things I wish I knew

-“Mom” vs “Peer”
As a new mother, I really didn’t think of myself as “mom” to the young woman who moved into our house. I hardly thought myself a “mom” to the tiny crying thing in the next room. It was a little shocking to be referred to as her “host mom” and to suddenly feel like I had to parent my AP. This may have been a little bit specific to the AP I matched with, but she expected to take on the role of daughter in the household. We struck a balance, eventually.

-Breastfeeding
Not every AP thinks this is normal and not “icky.” Luckily my AP had no problem handling breast milk and following my instructions. She was not uncomfortable with me breastfeeding in her presence. However, I would ask the AP in the future what about her comfort level prior to matching.

  • Host parents, what parts about Dorsi’s reflections on having an au pair care for your infant resonate with your experience?
  • If you have used the specialized “infant care” or infant-trained au pair, does that seem to have made a difference?
  • Au Pairs, if you’ve cared for a little baby, what else might you add from your point of view?

See Also:

Starting out on the right foot, when you’re on maternity leave
Would you recommend an Au Pair to…Parents of baby twins?

Be Our Guest Poster!


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Sweet dreams | day 28.365from pixelrobber
Sweet Baby Amelia from Ruth_O’Neal
Sweet Baby from moon_child

Yes, actually, it WAS torture to look for images. Painfully baby-lust inducing, if you must know.

{ 29 comments }

JBLV June 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Love this post, and have had very similar experiences. I had a nanny and then an interim au pair while my son was under one-year-old. Having both a nanny and an au pair during that time were excellent experiences. I agree entirely with your assessment. My colleague who had a baby just a week before I did, and put her baby in daycare, has been in and out of the hospital for the last 19-months because her son got RSV the second week he was in daycare. My son has rarely been sick.

My nanny and au pair also made breastfeeding a heck of a lot easier. They brought him to my office in the afternoon so that I could nurse. How great is that?!?!?

Anna June 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Your comment about breastfeeding made me think…
Why would a girl who thinks its yucky be infant-qualified and express a desire to work with infants?
I am expecting any day now, I hope my au pair who arrived just a month ago will not have a problem with it. Although I always thought that I can convert them to my thinking ….

Dorsi June 19, 2010 at 3:20 pm

You know, America is the land of pumped breast milk. Because we tend to return to work much sooner, we tend to juggle bottles and breast. (Medela, a Swiss company, sells more stuff in America than any place in the world). An Au Pair may have seen breastfeeding, but she may not know how to hand expressed milk, how long it can sit at room temperature, how to thaw, etc. I sure didn’t know these things till I had my own babe.

I have noticed, in our local craigslist, women write that they need someone who is “comfortable handling breast milk.” It makes me think that there are a significant number of people who aren’t.

SotaGal June 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Our twins were almost 1 when we decided to find an au pair; our nanny was too cost prohibitive. We found a great value in knowing that we COULD schedule up to 45 hours if we needed – if we had needed our nanny to work 45 hours it would have cost us $675. For one week. Even with the extra program costs and the extra cost for food (we eat out WAY too much) it was worth it to us. We also needed the flexibility as my husband travels for work. Our girls were 14 months and our son was 5 when our au pair arrived and she was such a life saver!

We enjoyed a caring, supportive au pair for that first year. She never passed judgment on our parenting style – I think it helped that we reminded her of her parents – and fully supported us in being consistent with the children. She was an extension of us. We had healthy girls rather than the constant day care germs we had experienced when our son was little. The biggest thing we stressed during matching was the isolation and the importance of sticking with the schedule. I learned the hard way that it makes for a horrible day when you have two, not one, tired, cranky and/or hungry young children. I needed to find an au pair that was going to still be happy spending the day mostly alone with the babies. Sure, she could take them for a walk or play in the back yard to get out but that was the extent of their outings for quite some time. I made her aware of our children’s temperaments and personalities and made it clear that they were very busy and active, went in running in the opposite direction when they were given freedom. I couldn’t manage them out at a park or at a friends house that may not have been childproofed enough by myself, therefore we wouldn’t allow it with our au pair either. Thankfully we found someone who could handle this, help us raise our children, teach them so many new things and we were able to watch her grow too.

Courtney Bosch June 18, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I concur! When my son was 3 months old I started him in daycare and he was constantly sick. I would often have to leave work early to pick him up and take him home, and depending on the illness keep him home for 24 hours before he could return. I wish I could have had an au pair, but at the time it wasn’t feasible. I now have three children (two are in school and my youngest is now 2.5.) I hope to get an au pair soon as the cost benefit is huge when you have more than one child in comparison to daycare/after-school care. Love the fact that an au pair makes breastfeeding easier. That’s wonderful!

aussiegirlaupair June 18, 2010 at 7:19 pm

This was a very interesting post and very timely for, In just over a week, I am headed back to the US for my third au pair year. Although I have been the first aupair before, this time I will be to 3 month old twins. It was great to read about the mothers perspective! I can’t wait to get there and spend my year with them! I am very exicited!!!

PA mama June 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I got my first au pair when I had a 1 year old, and was newly pregnant and returning to work. Having an ap made pregnancy easier, because she could handle the heavy lifting(my 25lb son). Also I was so thankful that he was not in daycare catching all kinds of colds to give to me, when a preggo is the most susceptible to everything going around and can’t take anything when she does get sick. I ended up catching the swine flu myself at work, but thankfully my son didn’t get it and I didn’t have to go through that pain with him. When the baby came, the ap took my son outside to play and kept him occupied so that I could pass out on the couch after feeding the newborn every 3 hours around the clock. It was great to have her help me juggle a toddler and a newborn that just wanted to be held all the time.

The bad–i did have a lot of anxiety about letting the baby cry it out, because I did not want to disturb her. She was not judgmental, but I still felt uncomfortably “watched” while trying to find my parenting way. When ap left, I was sad but relieved. I took a couple months off from having an ap to have some breathing room, but now I have another ap and am looking forward to having someone to help me again. God knows I need some time to myself–even if it is just to go to the bathroom alone!

AUPAIR Momma June 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm

For the most part i definitely agree.. I got my first aupair with my 1st child. I didnt have any ‘family’. we were 30 but really we felt like just 2 college kids having kid since we were used to the party life. hanging w/ the fam? what family. it was me and the husb and the baby. Now we are more of a fam. Though all of my babies screamed when I gave them to the aupair or babysitter and i know the babies loved them (they were great). I have never ever had an infant prefer someone over me. not even the husband. i always wonder about how that can be. sometimes i think weakly bonded?

AUPAIR Momma June 18, 2010 at 10:28 pm

about the infant specialized … i have had 2 .. and 1 not. I think the infant specialized girls do really LOVE babies. I definitely recommend. other aupairs may or may not do well the babies but the 2 i had were excellent w/ the babies.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 18, 2010 at 11:57 pm

The Camel was almost 2 and my son, a newborn, was newly out of hospital, recovering from bacterial meningitis, when we looked into the cost of home-based childcare (we have a locator service in our county). If one of the women on the list of 10 names said yes she would take my two, it would have cost much more than my husband was making at the time (he had quit his job and took care of The Camel for 20 months and had struggled to even find a decent paying entry-level job) because we basically had 2 newborns (The Camel learned to get herself into sitting shortly after her 2nd birthday, three months before her 5-month old brother did it).

DH did research and APIA had the extraordinnaire program which we figured suited our bill. The 3rd application we saw was from a pediatric intensive care (PICU) nurse, and she was in our home 6 weeks later. She was perfect for the kids – she knew how to care for The Camel without batting an eye, and she was extremely calm in the face of the “bewitching hour” (both kids would absolutely scream between 4 and 5 every day – each jealous of the other’s feeding). She had no problem with warming pumped breast milk and supporting my nursing.

The Camel, as it turns out, has a life-threatening medical condition – her body responds inappropriately to stress, especially illness. I can’t tell you how many times she’s been hospitalized for stomach flu because her system has shut down, how many times she’s decided to stop breathing because it’s too much work when she’s ill, or how many routine out-patient surgeries have kept us in hospital for more than a week. It just is. And if we had sent her to a care provider with other children, I’m know her quality of life would have suffered.

We attempted to sponsor our first AP as an employer, and she lived with us for 3 1/2 years, which was perfect for The Camel and my son. However, by the end of her stay, she was out of her element with my son – she was stressed out. While she was great with babies and toddlers, she babied by pre-schooler (she was still feeding him and dressing him at 4, because it was faster) and found him frustrating. My 2nd AP had trained as a special ed teacher, and she was perfect for The Camel and my son, because she pushed both of them.

Having a nanny would have cost more than I was making at the time, much less DH, so it’s been APs almost all the way for the last 9 years (except for the year we gutted our house to make a handicapped accessible wing for The Camel and lived in 3 bedrooms). We’ll be sad when the kids age out of the program, because The Camel will require constant care for the rest of her life.

theGermanGirl-FutureAP June 19, 2010 at 7:06 am

I would love to take care of a baby – if my agency ever manages to validate my application – once placed in a familiy although I don’t have much experience with babies aside from what every girl gets in an extended familily with cousins and such.
I also don’t mind the mother breastfeeding at all and I agree that girls who find it “icky” are probably not the best choice, especially since there are plenty of “icky”-considered things when working with babies and children in general…you know, changing diapers (which I actually quite like, I know it’s weird), kids playing with bogers and mudd and all that jazz so you should be more or less imune to “ickyness”…right?!

Pia Aupair June 19, 2010 at 9:35 am

i hope you know that you have to have 200 hours experience with kids under two that are not related to care for under 2 kids in the USA.
Maybe you could try an internship in a daycare or in a children’s hospital

theGermanGirl-FutureAP June 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Thanks a lot for the info, I had no idea about that rule, I had a three week internship at a daycare-center with toddlers (six months to 2 years) and one of the kids I babysit turned two during the last year I sitted her, so that should cover it right?

:)

potential AP in match process June 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Hi girl! Its so good that you are applying to the program, well for my point of view if you are interested in take care babies, you should have a lot of practice as you can, take care babies is a big responsabilitie and also is a really pretty experience, babies are demanding so if you can you should read a lot about babies and be with them a lot , well my mommy worked in a daycare center for kids with disabilities and they offer me to take a simple course which they taugt me how to do diferent activities with babies like a good exercises for them, a first aid course is essential I thought maybe were you live you could find something like that , I know that you could enjoy it and then feel more confidence with babies, all my best. :)

Jan June 19, 2010 at 8:26 am

We had an au pair when our 2nd son was born. Having another adult around was wonderful while we adjusted to our new addition, but on the flip side I sometimes missed my privacy. I would also caution that even au pair’s with under 2 experience may not have handled newborns, and you will probably have to show them the correct way to handle such a small baby.

Overall it was a great experience. During the first few weeks she she kept my older son occupied while I took care of the baby, and she also took over more of the household chores for me so I could spend time with both children. Maybe this was bending the rules, but every now and then I would get out to take a 20 minute walk and it was great knowing she was here if the baby woke up.

She had never been around a newborn except for her neighbor’s baby so it was a unique experience for her, and I think she really bonded with the baby. She told me she didn’t know a woman could recover so quickly, and she was surprised that my body still looked pregnant several hours after giving birth! In her country the women stay in the hospital for a week or so and then they stay in bed for about a month. In the beginning she was not sure about breastfeeding, but she has told me she will breastfeed her baby when she has one because it’s so much easier than formula.

Former French Au Pair June 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Thanks for the great post and for sharing your experience with hosting an au pair for your newborn.
I agree with Jan that being infant-qualified does not necessarily mean having lots of experience with brand new babies. I usually recommend to host families in the matching process to look for that level of experience if they have say, a 14-month-old and baby #2 to be born during the au pair’s year.
My host family had a super-qualified first au pair from Poland for their newborn triplets (she was also a maternal nurse I believe) and then had me, also infant-qualified, when they turned 18 months old.
Au pair # 1 and I had very different experiences, backgrounds and personalities, but we each contributed to the children’s development at different stages. I know I would have turned down newborn triplets as an 18-year-old IQ au pair, but I had an absolute blast with them as almost toddlers and their 5-yr-old sister… And my host parents were happy with each one of their au pairs, and embraced their different contributions.

OnceAnAuPair June 20, 2010 at 3:10 am

I took care of a 4 month old baby for a month, but left the family due to isolation. We were not allowed to go anywhere out of walking distance, and there wasn’t anything within walking distance. I ended up becoming very depressed by me more or less locked in all day with a baby for 11-12 hours a day. Then I took care of a baby age 13-20 months. I loved it.We went to playgroups, play gyms, the park, the pool, etc. It was a lot of fun and I really loved how much he loved me. It’s something you don’t experience as much with an older child. He learned English from me and was so excited to see me every morning. It was a great experience. But the difference was maybe the age (more interactive) and that we weren’t stuck inside all day. There were a few cold weeks in the winter ( we didn’t have a car and relied on walking and public transport to get around…this was europe so better public transport) though where we were inside a lot, the isolation wasn’t so fun then :0.

Chev June 21, 2010 at 1:05 am

I’m an AP for a family with twin toddlers, i’ve been with them since the boys were 6 weeks old and i’ll be leaving just before their 2nd birthday.
If you are considering an AP for your infant i’d just suggest that you seriously consider all her experience because i don’t know that agencies always match AP’s experience with a certain age with families that have children of the same age. I know my family wanted an AP that had a lot of experience with multiple babies from newborn, and while i had done a month long placement in the infant room at a day care centre it wasn’t on my application this time round since i have a lot more recent experience on there. So as far as my HF knew, looking at my application, the only infant experience i’d had was with my nephew. I moved in with him and my sister just after he was born. Which meant that i had a lot(!) of hours, and also that one of the first questions i had for my HF was whether they’d be using cloth or disposable diapers since I’d just had a year of disposable and wasn’t sure if i wanted another year with twice as many :)

StephinBoston June 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hum, what a timely post, I just found out we are expecting #3 in February, my first thought was “oh I hope my au pair is infant qualified!”, We’ve been matched for a long time and I couldn’t see any infant experience in her application. Fortunately after checking with her, we are OK. That was a big relief!

We started in the AP program when DS#2 was 5 months, it was a wonderful experience and I’m excited to do it again, our AP took such great care of the boys, she really was a second mom, I’m very happy I get to experience that again.

SotaGal June 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Congratulations on your new baby! Wishing you a healthy, happy pregnancy!

StephinBoston June 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Thanks SotaGal, it was a surprise but a happy one :-)

Southern CA mom June 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

For us it was a good sent to have a more experienced child care provider as our au pair, she knew from several years of working with newborns and toddlers how do handle my little ones when I returned to word. We had a pediatric nurse from Germany and then Nursery Care teachers from Germany to care for our babies and had great experience. Some of my friends have twins and tripplets, and they have also have had great experience with their professional au pair. It is hard to find these qualified candidates, but there are some agencies with infant specialized programs with experiences professional au pairs. We used http://www.proaupair.com. Good luck!

potential AP in match process June 23, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Hi DHD&DHM! My name is Karelin Im from Mexico, Im a potential AP in the match process and Im looking for my future host family, I have more than 7,000 hours of quality experience, I truly love children, Im a very good driver, Im mature, sociable, creative, trustable, lovely, responsible, well I want to share with you more about me, I made a page with a lot of pictures than my application, because I want that you can feel comfortable and very welcome to my life. http://karelinyourbestaupair.blogspot.com/

I will give just all the best of me everyday, I cant wait to know you and share incredible moments with your family. Im looking forward to hear from you soon, Thank you.

forex robot June 26, 2010 at 7:13 am

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

Euromom June 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Hey there, I myself have a toddler at home and had an au pair since he was 3 months old – at first just so I could have me time and later for when I returned to work. One bit of advice I would give any potential au pair who is thinking of caring for an infant is please, please, please be realistic.

Babies look like cute little bundles and they are… of trouble. The reality of a new born/infant is that they eat, sleep, pee, poop and sleep again and not much else until they get to the toddler stage and then the real fun begins. But right now we are talking infants.

For an au pair it can be very difficult to get out of the house – between nap times and feeding times. You must also get used to spill ups. Infants vomit, it’s what they do, some alot, some not so much but they all do it and as stated above if the baby is being breastfeed then the spit up will be breast milk. Are you going to be grossed out by this? Some people are…

Then there’s wind, colic, teething, and lets not forget witching hour, you know that particular hour of the day when all baby does is scream for no apparent reason, with my little one it’s from 18:45 – 19:30 or so every day and this is true of lots of infants, can you handle this in a house with nobody else there for support. Are you calm enough to put baby in the stroller and get out and walk even if it’s raining hard outside.

Do you have it in you not to panic?

The point I am trying to bring home here is that infants are hard work, in some ways much harder than 3,4,5, – 10 year olds. There is no school with infants so on duty can sometimes mean on duty bar nap times.

My wonderful au pair had been living with twin babies only two weeks older than my little one before she came to us and if I’m honest that’s what sealed the deal. She knew exactly what she was getting into and was completely hands on from the start. To date little one has peed on her twice! The poor girl was more familiar with my breasts than her own as I expressed until two months ago in the kitchen in my home in full view of everyone and anyone and if he gets upset she stays calm and deals with it – whether he’s put in his stroller for a walk or just picked up and cuddled, she stays calm.

So to any potential au pair out there thinking of taking on a new born/infant think very long and hard about it – will the reality really suit you?

If the answer is yes, then the very best of luck to you and please note that the pay backs are immense. Little one’s face lights up when he sees AP and there is no one like “x” to him. (and yes, I get jealous of that sometimes but I love her too all the more for it).

Anon for this June 27, 2010 at 1:45 am

How about breast milk spilled in your carry-on, soaking your visa and passport and teddy bear? I felt terrible, but the AP was a real trooper with that one…..

Euromom June 27, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Try a colleague drinking a milky coffee complain to you that it tasted sweet and she did not put any sugar in it!!

I only wish I had the guts to explain that when something in the communal fridge is marked “Don’t touch – it’s not for you” it really means “Don’t touch – it’s for baby” maybe then the penny will drop!

But having to dry out a breastmilk passport – that’s a first.

Host Mommy Dearest June 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Ewww, that’s gross, but serves him/her right for fridge surfing at work.

JJ host mom July 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Our first au pair started when I went back to work when my twin sons were 4 1/2 months old. She was infant certified (through AuPairCare) and had worked in a daycare in her home country for a couple of years.

Having an au pair was great in general. It was wonderful (still is) not to schlepp the kids to and from daycare every day, to let them take naps in their own beds, and to escape the onslaught of colds and flu that we would have gotten had they been in daycare. It was great to have the au pair wash the bottles, do their laundry, make purees; all the other stuff that comes with infants. She could do this while they were napping anyway. I nursed for a year, pumped at work. She never really got breastmilk, no matter how many times I explained it, and ended up throwing out a lot – which was heartbreaking for me as a low-supply mom. That said, she wasn’t put off by it, just not smart about it. She did okay with them while they were pre-mobile. Once they started needing more interaction, she just couldn’t hack it and things got worse and worse.

I’d definitely recommend an au pair for babies, even though we ended up rematching. The one thing I’d say is that if it’s your first baby, and you have no experience with other childcare, read this site as much as you can, and talk to your friends, and revisit often how things are going. This site is a good reality check for what’s acceptable and what’s not.

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