Putting baby in nursery 'could raise its risk of heart disease' because it sends stress levels soaring

There has been evidence of increased stress for some time. Little kids belong in a loving home, nowhere else

Sending babies and toddlers to day-care could do untold damage to the development of their brains and their future health, a leading psychologist has claimed.

Aric Sigman, a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, has warned that spending long periods being cared for by strangers in the first years of life can send levels of stress hormones soaring.

This could raise the odds of a host of problems, from coughs and colds in the short-term, to heart disease in the years to come.

Children deprived of their mother’s attention during the vital years in which the brain blossoms may also find it harder to form relationships as adults.

Dr Sigman, who has worked with the Department of Health on education campaigns, said that the emphasis on women’s rights, including the right to return to work after becoming a mother, means that the potential dangers of day-care are ignored.

He added: ‘The uncomfortable question remains: which is better for a young child during weekdays – the biological mother or a paid carer at an institution?’

With half of British mothers going out to work before their child is 12 months old, the claims will make uncomfortable reading for many. But other experts have disputed his views, arguing that attending nursery may help equip a child for the challenges of day-to-day life.

In an article for The Biologist journal, Dr Sigman cites studies which show higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in children who go to day care.

The increase only appears up until the age of three or so, but Dr Sigman says it is still important, as the brain develops rapidly during these years.

High levels of cortisol are linked to lower resistance to infection in the short-term and heart disease in the long-term.

Dr Sigman concludes: ‘The effects of day-care 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.’

But Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University, said: ‘There is broad consensus that day-care influences cortisol levels in the short term, but there is no evidence that this has long-term detrimental consequences.’

Dr Stuart Derbyshire, a University of Birmingham psychologist, added that children in day-care may have higher levels of cortisol not because they are stressed, but because they run around more.


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