Paid care for babies a pale imitation of parental love

Sydney Morning Herald Opinion

July 16, 2007

Steve Biddulph is the author of a series of best-selling books on childhood and parenting.
In Britain, the Blair government’s attempt at being mother-friendly consisted of building a vast number of new day-care centres. But the news out of Britain in May was stunning. Almost a quarter – 22 per cent – of the country’s nursery places are unfilled. Day care has gone out of fashion. British families are making the sacrifices that enable them to stay home when their babies are small.

The reason is not hard to find. A slew of research, from large and well designed studies, has found that too much day care harms under threes in several ways. Lacking one-to-one care, the fine interactions between a loving parent or family member and a baby or toddler do not happen. Group care by paid strangers is a dulled and muted version of the love babies are meant to receive around the clock. Quality care – from university-trained carers, stable staff in high ratios – is helpful, but does not eliminate the damage.

Care-raised babies don’t all become psychopaths, but they are measurably more anxious, aggressive and disobedient as they move through preschool and the primary grades. We even know why this is so. The stress hormone cortisol, measured in a baby’s saliva, doubles if they are placed in care, and it is still elevated even months after they start. It also rises as the day goes on, whereas it falls away in home-raised babies. Australian studies have replicated this. Elevated cortisol suppresses growth, including brain growth, and reduces immunity.

…babies don’t combine well with anything except total devotion. Parents know these years are precious and fragile, and not to be messed with. Politicians and big business are the last to wake up.
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