Good News for Daycare Blues

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Childcare for kids of depressed moms reduced the risk of emotional problems for the kids

June 19, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Some moms may feel guilty about taking their children to daycare instead of staying home with them. But new research may help them feel better, especially if moms have depression symptoms.

A recent study found that children whose moms showed depression symptoms did a little better emotionally in group childcare arrangements than if they stayed home with mom.

If moms had symptoms of depression, their children showed fewer emotional problems and social withdrawal issues if they entered daycare before they were 17 months old than if they stayed home.

Social withdrawal symptoms include not interacting with others, even other children.

Entering daycare before or after 17 months did not lead to any changes to the children's separation anxiety symptoms.

"Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of depression."

The study, led by Catherine M. Herba, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Québec in Montréal, Canada, looked at the emotional development of children who were in childcare and whose mothers were depressed.

The researchers specifically investigated preschool-aged children's "internalizing problems." These include emotional problems, separation anxiety symptoms and social withdrawal symptoms.

The researchers assessed 1,759 children on a regular basis, from age 1.5 to age 5, based on questionnaires with the children's mothers. Among these mothers, 318 had symptoms of depression and the other 1,441 did not.

The researchers identified children as being in one of three types of childcare arrangements: being taken care of at home by their mother, being taken care of by a relative or babysitter or being in a group-based childcare (daycare or in-home daycare).

When analyzing children's emotional development in relationship to their childcare, the researchers took into account the child's and family's demographics, including the child's sex, birth weight and temperament.

Family demographics included the mother's age and level of education, family income and how many children were in the family.

The researchers also took into account the family's parenting styles and the family's overall functioning (communication, problem resolution, expression of affection and control of disruptive behavior).

The researchers found that children of mothers who had symptoms of depression were about twice as likely as children without depressed mothers to have emotional problems and separation anxiety symptoms.

"Research studies indicate that parental emotional functioning may have an impact on their young child's emotional development and well being," Dr. Georgia Michalopoulou, PhD, psychologist on staff at DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan, told dailyRx News. "Additionally, since children learn by watching and imitating the behavior of their caretakers they may learn to engage in maladaptive patterns of behaviors as they observe them being modeled by their depressed parent."

However, the researchers found that the younger the child when entering childcare, the lower the influence of their mother's depression symptoms on any emotional problems the child might later have.

Among children whose mothers had depression symptoms, those who entered childcare before they were 17 months old were about 79 percent less likely to have emotional problems than those taken care of by their mothers at home.

In other words, children with depressed mothers were at higher risk for developing their own emotional problems, but these problems were less likely if the children were in daycare before age 1.5.

These children were also 60 percent less likely to have emotional problems if they were in group childcare than if they were cared for by a relative or babysitter.

Interestingly, the children of mothers with depression symptoms who were taken care of by a relative or babysitter had similar rates of emotional problems as those taken care of at home.

The researchers also found that children whose mothers had depression symptoms and who entered daycare before or after 17 months old were better off in terms of social withdrawal symptoms.

Those entering before 17 months old had 71 percent reduced risk of social withdrawal symptoms compared to those taken care of at home. Those entering after 17 months old had 79 percent reduced risk of social withdrawal symptoms.

The researchers did not find any major changes among the children's separation anxiety symptoms based on whether they were in group childcare or not.

"Having a child enrolled in a day care program, educational or recreational setting may provide a positive experience for the youngster and some relief and support for the parent who might be battling symptoms of depression allowing the parent to perhaps engage in treatment, connect with friends and other sources of support in their community, and to strengthen relationships within the family," said Dr. Michalopoulou.

"Given that most of today’s children experience child care during the preschool years, child care could potentially serve as a public health intervention strategy for high-risk children," the authors wrote.

"Benefits of regulated group-based child care were greater than those of other types of child care (i.e., care by a relative or babysitter), which could be due to specific features of this type of care, including a more structured setting, care provided by a trained professional and the child being out of his or her home or being exposed to other children of a similar age," the authors wrote.

The study was published June 19 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The research was funded by the Québec Government’s Ministry of Health, the Québec Fund for Health Research and the Québec Fund for Research on Society and Culture.

It was also funded by Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Center for Research of Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center and the University of Montréal.

One author is the founding scientific director of the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. No other potential conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
June 17, 2013
Last Updated:
August 2, 2013