Childcare Definitions

by Genevieve Thiers, Founder and CEO of

childcareDo you need a babysitter or a mother's helper? How is an au pair different from a nanny? What does a doula even do anyway? If you’ve ever been confused about your childcare choices, use this handy list to help sort through the definitions.

A babysitter is a part-time childcare provider who cares for children while parents are out of the home. Most work in a family's home, but some work from their own home. Babysitters typically work fewer than 20 hours a week for an hourly rate and don't identify childcare as their major profession.

A mother's helper is a "babysitter in training" who cares for children while a parent is still in the home to step in if needed. This is an excellent option if you are just getting used to using childcare, want some uninterrupted time in the home or want to give a new babysitter a trial period before leaving her to care for your children.

A nanny is similar to a babysitter except that nannies work more than 20 hours a week, live or work inside your home and are paid by the week. Because nannies work longer hours, they often have increased responsibilities such as driving the children and preparing three meals a day.

A "manny" is a male nanny. Sometimes mannies consider this term derogatory, so be sensitive to this sentiment, especially in the presence of a male childcare provider.

An au pair is a foreign adult between the ages of 18 and 26 who comes to the United States to live with and work for an American family as a primary caregiver. In exchange for care giving, the au pair receives free room and board, and a small monetary allowance in accordance with government regulations. An au pair is treated as another family member and typically stays with an American family for one to two years (Different countries have different regulations and programs).

A postpartum doula is a specially trained and experienced professional who provides non-medical support – including education, breastfeeding instruction and more – to a new mother directly following the birth of a child. Unlike the previous care providers, a doula's priority is the mother's well-being, rather than the child's.

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