This paper explores factors related to the use, amount and type of non-maternal child care infants experience in their first year, reporting on a prospective longitudinal study of 1201 families recruited from two different regions in England. The selection and timing of non-maternal child care was investigated within a socio-ecological model that took account of child and family characteristics as well as maternal psychological factors. Family socio-demographic background (education, occupation and income level) was the most consistent predictor of the amount and nature of non-maternal care infants received. Infants who started in non-maternal child care before the age of 3 months were more likely to come from relatively disadvantaged families; in contrast the mothers of infants starting in child care between 4 and 10 months were more advantaged. Disadvantaged families were more likely to use familial care, while more advantaged families were likely to use purchased child care. Children who began non-maternal care later (3–10 months) and spent more hours in care were more likely to be from ethnic minorities (Asian) and have mothers who believed that maternal employment had more benefits and fewer risks for their child. First born children were also more likely to experience non-maternal care after the age of 3 months. Infants rated by their mothers at 3 months as less ‘adaptable’ in temperament and at 10 months as more ‘fussy’ spent more hours in child care. Finally, the type of child care selected was related to the families’ socio-economic background, maternal beliefs and attitudes, and birth order. Findings are compared with the US large scale National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study and considered in the light of national policies.