Sep 21, 2011

Academics debate stress in babies in daycare

Over the last week there has been yet more discussion in the media about the possible detrimental effect of babies under 2 being placed in nurseries. I was incensed to hear one interviewee explaining that ‘being cared for by strangers’ could lead to a rise in the stress hormone, cortisol, in babies under 2 years old.

The whole point of good quality childcare is that the relationship between baby and carer is strengthened and developed; the key person system involves just that, the individual child having a named carer who carries out all personal care and gets to know the child really well. I would hate to think that any of the babies in our nurseries are cared for by ‘strangers’ – how often do we get lovely comments from parents who feel that the nursery staff become a part of their extended family?

The discussion this time arose from an article on the website of controversial psychologist Aric Sigman. He quotes studies showing that cortisol levels rise in children in daycare up until they are 3 years old. However, he also said that only mum could counteract this, so babies cared for by fathers, grandparents or other carers could also suffer from stress. http://www.aricsigman.com/

A welcome opposing view (for all mums who occasionally need to be parted from their babies for whatever reason) comes from Professor Dorothy Bishop, from Oxford University, who questions whether stress is detrimental to children’s development. She suggests that mild levels of stress can be good for development and provides increased resilience. http://oscci.psy.ox.ac.uk/people/dorothy-bishop

Whatever your view, or that of the academics, the fact is clear that parents do need day care (or childminders or grandparents) to help them to juggle their busy lives, so surely we all need to work as hard as possible in developing close relationships with the children in our care. We need to constantly reflect on the environment in which we care for babies and reduce any factors which can cause stress. At The Old Station Nursery Group we have worked with baby expert Mary Barlow, to create the most homely environments possible for our under 2s in particular. We don’t have a ‘sleep room’ but a bedroom, and where possible have a comfortable chair in there with a box of books and a little lamp, so that feeds can be given as they would be at home, before a quiet sleep.

Day care is here to stay, so let’s use this academic research to help us to improve our practice, rather than giving parents yet another guilt trip!


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