Are Kids In Daycare Doomed? Uh, No (Despite What One Expert Says)

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Talk about fear-mongering! Dr. Aric Sigman, a fellow at England’s Royal Society of Medicine, says that sending children to daycare increases their stress levels and alters their brain structure, which can lead to future health problems. Uh, okay.

Sigman says the emphasis on women’s rights – including the right to return to work after becoming a mother – means that the potential dangers of daycare are ignored, according to an article in The Daily Mail. “The uncomfortable question remains: Which is better for a young child during weekdays – the biological mother or a paid carer at an institution?” he asks. Sigman cites studies that show higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in children three and under who go to daycare, which is linked to lower resistance to infection and, in the long-term, heart disease.

The reason that working mothers like myself might get a bit worked up over Sigman’s claims is because we’ve read studies that argue just the opposite – that daycare has a positive effect on children and can help prepare them for future challenges. (Plus, really, is it better for children to be hanging out with Mommy all day vs. interacting and running around with other children? It’s a whole other kind of stimulation they’re getting, that’s for sure.) Another recent study, which we’ve covered off on this very site, finds that children of depressed mothers respond well to daycare.

If you want to get all medical on the issue, the article does include a quote by Dorothy Bishop, professor of development neuropsychology at Oxford University, who says, “There is a broad consensus that daycare influences cortisol levels in the short term, but there is no evidence that this has long-term detrimental consequences.” And yet another expert, a psychologist, says that children in daycare may have higher levels of cortisol not because they are stressed but because they run around more.

It would be easy for working moms to dismiss Sigman’s claims based on guilt alone. Oh, and the fact that he sounds like he’s straight out of 1952 when he speaks (like this: ‘The effects of daycare on the child continues to be discussed through the prism of adult sexual politics and women’s rights. This has been a significant impediment, involving a serious conflict of interest: Women’s rights and self-fulfilment are not the same issue as a child’s well-being and may often compete  for precedence”). So I think it’s important to look at the facts – is daycare truly detrimental to your child’s health? – and then make any decisions based on that. I think we’ll find that more often than not, women don’t have a choice when it comes to daycare – be it for financial or emotional reasons.

I also think it’s important to distinguish between legitimate research and fear-mongering. In the case of this study alone, there’s a whole lot of fear-mongering going on.

(Photo: iStockphoto)