As our boys played at the playground, I struck up a conversation with the mother who is expecting her second child in a couple of months. We talked about to extraordinary high cost of childcare.
I was also curious to hear about how she and her husband planned to manage caring for two kids under three years old on their own.
She said they planned to “hire a village” to help them during her fourth trimester, which is the difficult three-month period after a child is born.
During the fourth trimester, mothers can suffer postpartum depression. If the birthing process was particularly difficult or if a C-section is required, a mother might be unable to move easily or carry heavy objects for at least the first month. Sleep deprivation is all but a certainty as a baby wakes up every 1-3 hours on average to feed.
The expecting mother mentioned her second pregnancy has been more difficult than her first. With one little monkey running around all day, she is worried she won’t have the necessary energy and time to take care of her toddler and a baby concurrently. Her husband works a full-time job and often only has an hour at most in the morning and two hours in the evening before and after work to help out.
When I asked her how much they planned to spend on the village, she said about $40,000. But she wasn’t certain whether she would go ahead and spend that amount since $40,000 is obviously a lot of money for childcare over just a three month period.
As I may face this dilemma one day, I thought it would be a good idea to graph out where $40,000 could get spent and whether hiring so much help during the fourth trimester is worth it.
The Cost Of Childcare In The Fourth Trimester
Here’s who the mother plans to hire and how much she has to pay.
Birthing Doula: $2,000 (one-time cost). The birthing doula’s job is to help the mother have a more comfortable birthing experience. The doula helps the mother breathe, keeps her company during the entire hospital visit, helps her relax, fights for the mother’s rights against nurses and doctors during times of stress. The $2,000 cost is fixed whether the mother goes through a short or long labor process.
Day Doula: $40/hour, $3,200/month. The day doula’s job is to care for the newborn baby while the mother recovers and/or looks after the toddler. The daytime doula specializes in infant care during the first three months. This mother plans to employ a daytime doula for 20 hours a week.
Night Doula: $50/hour, $9,600/month. The night doula works eight-hour shifts a minimum of five nights a week. Her specialty is feeding the baby every 1-3 hours, making sure the baby is properly burped after each feeding, bringing the baby over to the mother to breastfeed when needed, helps with pumping/bottles/cleanup, and making sure the baby’s nasal passages are clear for proper sleep. The night doula will usually work from 10 pm – 6 am or 11 pm – 7 am. The mother plans to hire a night doula for six nights a week. Although she could hire a night doula for her minimum five nights a week to save $1,600/month if needed.
Babysitting: $25/hour, $1,200/month. This mother plans to utilize a babysitter three times a week for four hours a day. The babysitter’s main job will be to care for the toddler while mom recovers, rests and/or spends time with the baby.
Total cost per month: $14,000.
Total cost for the fourth trimester: $42,000 + $2,000 = $44,000.
The Benefits Of Hiring Help During The Fourth Trimester
Paying $44,000 for childcare help equals $63,000 before tax at a 30% effective tax rate. Ouch. What a strain such an expense is on the working parent!
I’m assuming that most readers here would balk at the idea of paying $44,000 for three months of childcare help either because you raised two or more kids on your own, had grandparents or other family to help out, have amnesia on how difficult the fourth trimester was, or are simply envious this couple can afford to pay for so much help.
This mother laid out some reasons why they are strongly considering hiring so much help:
- No grandparents or siblings to help out. Everyone is more than a five-hour flight away and are busy with their own lives. Yes, it’s sad that they’re not getting more family support during the fourth trimester, but that’s what happens sometimes.
- Husband has an arduous job and can only take a couple weeks of parental leave.
- Their marriage is strained because of her husband’s stress at work and the difficulty encountered thus far raising their son.
- She suffered through several weeks of postpartum depression after her first pregnancy, and expects to suffer through postpartum depression again.
- She went through a difficult birth with her first that required post-op treatment and extra bed rest.
- She is 40 years old and has lost energy and strength.
- Her husband is now 45 years old and also doesn’t have the same amount of energy as when their first was born.
Their main benefits of hiring help are:
- Will allow both her and her husband to sleep more during the first three months.
- Will reduce the amount of misery in the household and better protect their marriage from falling apart.
- Will reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome during the first few months given someone alert and rested will always be watching the baby.
- Will enable them as parents to pay more attention to their toddler and thereby lessen the disruption in that relationship.
- Will help with sleep training, which should improve the quality of lives for everyone if it works. The couple’s first child didn’t take well to sleep training and is still not a great sleeper.
To Hire Help For Big Money Or Not?
My first reaction upon hearing the cost of help was: no, save your money. But as I listened to the reasons why they are strongly considering hiring help, I felt that spending $44,000 over a three month period might be the best money they could ever spend.
I vividly remember both my wife and me delirious for the first three months of our child’s life due to sleep deprivation. I was constantly paranoid about my boy suffocating in his sleep, so I refused to sleep for many nights. My first mental breakdown happened during my boy’s third month of life. No matter how hard I tried to put him to sleep through rocking and singing, he kept waking up soon after I laid him down. This went on for hours in the middle of the night.
Both of us ran on adrenaline, and thankfully, as stay at home parents, neither of us had to be somewhere else. In this mother’s case, her husband still has to be away at work and they also have a wild toddler to take care of.
As a parent, I often think about how much I would spend to ensure that my child is happy and safe. That answer is always: whatever it takes. Therefore, if it costs $44,000 to keep this family’s baby safe, their toddler safer, and their marriage intact, I think they should go ahead.
Affording Fourth Trimester Help
The difficulty of raising a baby won’t last forever. You also get the most bang for your childcare buck during the fourth trimester. Therefore, you might as well spend the money where it counts the most.
For those of you thinking about hiring a lot of care during the fourth trimester, I would actively save up the estimated cost so you can pay for the care in cash. Do not go into debt to pay for care. Instead, reduce the amount of care in order to live within your financial means.
To determine how much you can comfortably afford to spend on fourth trimester care, I would take your annual household income and multiply it by 10% – 15%. In this family’s case, they need to earn at least $293,000 – $440,000 in annual household income to afford its $44,000, 3-month cost.
Maybe some of you may only require one month of fourth trimester care, while others might want to extend the intensive care to six months and beyond. Everybody’s situation is different. It’s up to you to plan ahead and decide how much you can afford.
All I know for certain is that this is one instance where money can buy happiness, or at least less misery!
Readers with multiple children: How did you manage to care for your children during the fourth trimester? How much help did you hire? What did you do if you had no grandparents or other family to help out? If you didn’t hire help, do you regret not doing so? How common is revisionist history where we forget our pain and suffering?