Feeling Your Way
Once you've found someone you like, give her a chance to meet your child and learn how the household works. If time and money allow, this orientation should take the form of a supervised, paid trial. If not, at least ask the sitter to arrive an hour before your departure. Walk her through the house to familiarize her with the layout. Explain your family's fire-escape plan (if you don't have one, devise one now).
Demonstrate how to use appliances like the microwave and the air conditioner, and show her where to find the circuit breakers or the fuse box. And make sure she can operate your infant's gear, from the bouncy seat to the stroller. Also, be sure to leave a binder of important emergency-contact information for reference (see "Parents Alert: Make a List, Check It Twice," on right).
Then tell her your baby's preferences and habits, including such details as the way she likes to be held or the fact that she won't go to sleep unless her music box is playing.
Make your own preferences clear as well, especially on such matters as whether the sitter is allowed to have visitors or talk on the phone (experts discourage both); when and for how long he can watch TV or use the computer; and how far outside, if at all, he can take the baby.
Finally, don't forget to stock the fridge with a few snacks.