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Childcare helps children with depressed mothers

Young children whose mothers suffer from depression are at heightened risk for behavioural troubles, but recent research shows that day care may help ease the risk.

Childcare helps children with depressed mothers

Young children whose mothers suffer from depression are at heightened risk for behavioural troubles, but recent research shows that day care may help ease the risk.

Maternal depression has been linked to an increased risk of certain behavior problems in children including language, cognitive, social and emotional development, besides depression. Child care may modify some effects of maternal depression on subsequent child behavior, but this has not been widely investigated. A new study shows that just over three hours a week of formal child care can help offset these risks.

The researchers examined the influence of maternal depressive symptoms during toddlerhood on children's behavior at the age of 5 years and investigated if formal or informal child care during toddlerhood modified any relationship observed.

Researchers in Australia conducted an analysis of close to 450 mothers and their children (227 girls and 221 boys). The mothers completed questionnaires during the children's infancy, in toddlerhood, and at the age of 5 years. In the study, formal child care referred to care received in a day care center or by a paid caregiver such as a nanny while informal child care was defined as care provided outside of the home by a relative or friend.

Of the 438 moms in the study, 69% showed no signs or symptoms of depression, 20% reported intermittent depressive symptoms, and 11% had recurrent depression symptoms.  Mothers with recurrent depression were more likely to have children with behavioral problems reported at age 5 unless their child spent more than three hours a week in formal child care at age 2, the study showed. These findings did not hold among moms with intermittent depressive symptoms or children under informal care.

The findings suggest that modest amounts of formal child care in toddlerhood for the children of mothers with recurrent depressive symptoms can have enduring benefits for the emotional and behavioral state of the child around the time they transition to school. If a mother is depressed, it is unlikely that she will be chatting up her toddler all day, and infants and toddlers depend on their primary caregiver to regulate them emotionally. Even informal child care, which is regular and consistent may have similar benefits as formal, paid child care.
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