A nursery is one of the more expensive childcare options, but one of the main reasons you're shelling out your hard-earned cash is for reliability: you're not reliant on one person, so you don't need to worry about the carer being off sick or on holiday, and nurseries are usually open 52 weeks a year (possibly with some days off for Christmas or other Bank Holidays).
Good nurseries may be booked up well in advance, so leave yourself plenty of time to find a place before you're due back at work.
The advantages of having a large team of staff as carers are not just practical - some parents like the fact their child can bond with several people, rather than just one, and also that there are several people to take the strain when the children are all driving everyone round the bend.
One Mumsnetter says: "My baby can be quite demanding and I would not wish 11 hours with him on anyone without sheltered breaks. If there is more than one carer, there is more cover and it is less likely that one carer gets too stressed."
Nursery staff are there purely to look after, entertain and educate the children; they're not interrupted by household chores or errands in the way that a childminder or nanny may be.
"My son loves his nursery and talks about the staff there all the time. And when he sees them in the street he always gets excited and gives them a cuddle." M2T
Nurseries are also flexible about pick-up and drop-off times. One Mumsnetter says: "My children are at nursery for three days a week, but as I work for myself the times I drop them off and pick them up varies a great deal, depending on how quickly we get out of the door in the morning, and how my day is planned."
Nurseries are usually structured so that children of the same age are grouped together in an age-specific learning environment.
Many parents find that a nursery provides a good pre-school environment, and larger nurseries may have their 'pre-school' rooms (for three and four-year-olds) set out to resemble a reception classroom, with little tables, and computer and home corners.
Experience of nursery teaches children social skills that are useful for school as well, as one Mumsnetter explains: "I chose a nursery because I think it helps learn group skills that are useful for school. For example, group story-telling, queuing up and eating with peers."
Although you probably don't want to fret too much about academic achievement at this age; there's years of that ahead and you don't want to peak too early.
Not reliant on one person, so always guaranteed childcare
Child mix with same-age peers
Bonds created with a number of people
Staff are there purely to look after/entertain children; not responsible for cooking/housekeeping chores
You can drop off and pick up child at any time within nursery hours
More structured, age-specific learning environment
Usually no television
Helps learn group skills that are useful at school
Expense: private nurseries can be extremely expensive, especially in big cities
May well be waiting lists for good and popular nurseries
'Institutionalised' childcare is not for everyone
Nursery staff may be young and lacking the experience of older carers/mothers
Quality of food varies
Strict sickness rules mean that your child cannot be accommodated if suffering/recovering from certain illnesses
Not much flexibility if your working hours are unpredictable, and potential financial penalties if you are late to collect your child
Bugs travel through nursery populations like, well, bugs (but good for building up your child's immune system)
Nursery is a less homely and more 'institutionalised' form of childcare and this isn't for everyone. And some parents feel that nursery staff tend to lack experience.
Check on the quality of food your child will be given - ask to see the nursery's menus and find out whether meals are made on-site with fresh produce. Press for ingredients - 'Cowboy hotpot' may be nursery-speak for sausages and beans from a tin.
Nurseries have strict rules governing sickness, to avoid spreading contagious diseases, so your child will inevitably miss some days of nursery if they're suffering or recovering from certain illnesses. You can't sneak in a rash-ridden toddler in the hope nursery staff won't notice while you swan off to work. Mumsnet Talk boards resound with heated discussions about whether or not it's acceptable to send your child to nursery or preschool with a streaming cold.
Not all parents are fans of nurseries. The debate mainly centres on how suitable nurseries are for children under two – whether they get enough individually tailored attention, and whether nurseries make them antisocial (as some studies have suggested) or the opposite (as other studies have suggested).
"I worked in a private day nursery. In my baby room, babies were cuddled, sang to entertained, loved. They do get one to one when others go to bed and if you are a stay-at-home mother, you don't give your child 10 hours of one to one anyway. You know your child better than anyone. If they're happy, then the childcare they receive - whether childminder, nanny or nursery - is good." cuppy
And, of course, it can come down to an individual baby's temperament - some take to nursery, others don't - and only you can be the judge of that.
"My daughter is much happier with a childminder because she is shy child and needs continuity of care which she wasn't getting at her nursery." Acinonyx
"My son is a very loud lively two-year-old who thrives with other children. He was originally with a childminder who could not offer him as many activities as the nursery." jrsmum