What about work

In the midst of your concern for your sick baby and your need to figure out just what is wrong and get him the treatment he needs, you will probably find yourself thinking, "But I have to go to work! What will I do?" If you haven't given this some thought beforehand and put some backup plans in place, this could be a tough morning. Yet it's surprising how few parents prepare themselves for the reality that their children will get sick.

Things to do before the baby gets sick

Different employers have very different policies and attitudes about employees taking time off to look after sick children. So it's important to find out what your employer's policy is (and whether they offer any help in finding or paying for backup child care). Once you know the policies, you can discuss your options ahead of time with your supervisor.

It's also important to know your spouse's options at his or her job. Working couples should have a contingency plan in which they decide together how they will handle the situation when their baby is sick. Who will stay home? What if both of you have an important meeting that day? Is there a relative, friend, or sitter who can be called at the last minute? If your baby gets ill during the day, who will take him home from child care?

You should also have backup child care plans in place. When choosing a regular child care provider, ask about their health policy and any backup care options in detail. Will they provide child care even when your baby is ill? If so, what illnesses are they prepared to deal with? Will they administer medications? Are they prepared to care for children with chronic conditions like asthma?

If sick children are excluded from your regular care arrangement, what other options do you have? Ask your provider if she knows of any other providers who offer care for mildly ill children. Do you have friends, neighbors, or family members who might be available for care on short notice? What days and what times are they usually available? If paying a friend or relative feels uncomfortable, think about trading services (care for their child, help with painting a room) or bring them a gift. Some communities have private backup child care services that can send caregivers to children's homes for a day or a few days on short notice. If such a service exists in your community, it will be listed in the Yellow Pages under "child care" or "home care agencies." These services generally require pre-registration, so you'll need to plan ahead if you want to use one. (Home care agencies generally provide care for sick adults, so if you contact one of these agencies, be sure to ask for a provider who is experienced with children. Be aware, too, that this type of care can be expensive.)

When planning backup care, it's important to line up as many realistic options as possible. (You may well find that on the day you really need it your first choice isn't available.) Keep a file with any forms, notices, and other information you assemble about your backup care options. And make a clear list of who you'll call on that morning you need care.

Ultimately, your decision about who cares for your child when he is sick will have to be based on his condition, your work situation, and the backup child care options available to you.

Anticipate frequent minor illnesses

Call your doctor when you're concerned about your baby's health

Plan, in advance, how you will handle your baby's illness

Establish sick child care arrangements for days when you have to be at work and your baby

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