Baby Boom: The Next Frontier of Child Care?

It's morning crunch time and Allie Hewlett, a benefits administrator, and her husband John, a school vice principal, are preparing to go to work.

During their busy morning routine, he juggles caring for 8-month-old Scout — named for the heroine in "To Kill Mockingbird" — as she checks e-mail before heading to the office. Oh, and, yes, there's also Banzo, the family dog.

Anyone who has to budget for child care knows it can cost tens of thousands of dollars each year. Unless, of course, you happen to be lucky enough to work for T3, a multi-million dollar advertising firm based in Austin, Texas, where parents can care for their children at work, for the first year.

And we're not talking separate child care on site. At T3, mothers or fathers can care for their children themselves in the office. It's a new frontier in the world of child care.

"The option for new moms is to put your baby into day care after 12 weeks," Allie Hewlett said. "And I mean, at 12 weeks they're so little, they're so small and after my maternity leave, I was definitely ready to get back to work, but I wasn't ready to let go of her."

Babies and the Bottom Line

The person responsibly for T3's policy is president and chief executive Gay Gaddis, who founded the company in 1989.

"If they need to be feeding the baby or not online for 30 minutes, that's OK," said Gaddis, whose company employs 250 people in Austin, New York and San Francisco. "As long as you're kind of keeping up, I don't care what the timeline is."

Gaddis knows the challenges working parents face, because she has been there herself.

"I, as a mom with three children, know the terrible pain of having to leave a child at a day care too young."

Gaddis may have been the first to offer a "babies-at-work" policy, but there are an estimated 70 companies across the country following suit.

Kristie Loescher, who teaches management at the University of Texas' McCombs School of Business, said the policy isn't just good for employees; it's also good for the bottom line.

"You get the benefits of retention, hopefully the benefit of less absenteeism, the person can come to work every day because they're bringing the baby and also there's an interesting fact that job satisfaction can increase because you're feeling a real loyalty to an employer who's letting you do this," she said.

Gaddis agreed. "I wouldn't have kept it going for 13 years if it wasn't so valuable to our bottom line," she said. "When a person is loyal and we're not having to recruit or retrain someone, this is worth thousands, tens of thousands of dollars per person."

The boss' lawyer was not thrilled with the potential liability issues, but a hefty insurance rider and parents' signing off for primary responsibility took care of the legal matters.

'An Incredible Experience'

"It's critical to look at the job and make sure that the baby will be safe," Loescher said. "If you work in a lab or you work in a hospital or someplace where it would be obvious there would be stuff in the air or obvious hazards to a baby, then you wouldn't want to consider it."

Gaddis said, "there have to be guidelines and rules. This isn't just a free-for-all, this is a work environment and we get a lot of work done here and we're very busy and very taxed with a lot of deadlines."

Deadlines and babies are everywhere at T3.

"We make it work, we get our work done and the baby's happy," said Erica Shows, a project manager at T3. "It's been an incredible experience."

Marshall Wright brought his daughter Maggie to work for five months, and said it was a "great experience" for her.

"She's really socialized, she does very well around adults and she and I got a great bond," he said.

Forty-seven children have gone through T3's babies-at-work program since 1995, but what about other employees trying to work in a baby-riddled space?

"If there is an employee that has any difficulties or a problem with being next to a baby that's maybe crying or fussy, then we move the employee to another place in the offices or we put the baby and mom in a different place," Gaddis said.

Account Director Jen Dillahunty, who does not have children, is supportive. "Regardless of whether you plan to have children or [are] bringing them up through the agency or having them spend time at T3, it makes you feel good just to know that that's part of the values of the company. So I think that people know coming in, and I think that's part of what attracts them to T3."

Keeping Women at Work

For employees with no children, there was a quid pro quo.

"There were definitely skeptical employees when we started this program and they thought how in the world are we going to work with screaming babies and people running around late to meetings; what's gonna happen," Gaddis said. "So I had a few come in and talk to me about it, and, ironically, they didn't have children and they were sort of lobbying to have their dogs come and so now we have dogs, too. And that's actually worked."

Said Loescher: "Having a baby around makes the work place a friendlier, nicer place to be for other people, too, so you can even get some side benefits."

Allie Hewlett's colleagues at T3 often volunteer to help out with Scout.

"Anytime she has a call or a meeting, I'm like, sure I'll take her," one co-worker said.

"In fact, we try to rip her out of Allie's office as much as we can," another joked.

Allie Hewlett said that the "first time she sat up by herself she was [at the office] and the whole HR team was just standing around her going 'yeah Scout, you can sit up!'"

Gaddis said she believes that "we potentially lose too many great women out of the work force who have to make that tough decision, do I go back to work or do I stay at home?

"And if this is a segue to get them comfortable to being able to stay and those bright minds staying as part of our work force, when they need those salaries a lot of times, then I think it's something that we should all consider." Producer Katie Escherich contributed to this report.