Sharing germs is good
While daycare may mean more infections initially, it could benefit your kid later on.
"Daycares have a reputation for being germ factories," says lead author Sylvana Cote.
That bad rap may be at least somewhat warranted, she said. Children going into daycare have been shown to get sick more often than children who stay at home
. But earlier studies had not looked into daycare's potential long-term effects on children's health.
To see how the germ battle played out over time, Cote and her colleagues identified more than 1,200 families with a newborn in Quebec and followed them for the first 8 years of the child's life.
On average, the children had about three respiratory infections, as well as one ear and one gastrointestinal infection every year.
The researchers found that kids under the age of two-and-a-half who spent at least 10 hours a week surrounded by at least seven other children in a daycare facility initially experienced around 60% more respiratory tract and ear infections than their homebound peers.
But these children appeared to be compensated for their suffering: they had 21% fewer respiratory tract infections and 43% fewer ear infections during the early elementary school years.
"When children start interacting with a large number of other kids, that's when their rate of infection goes up," noted Cote.
"It's really a question of timing," she added. "The children may have the same overall number of infections, but we argue that it's better to experience these awful infections earlier."
Cote suggests that being sick might help build a kid's immunity, and that a child's immune system may be particularly sensitive to such shaping during the early preschool years
While the science is being solidified, Cote softens some common fears: "Parents can be reassured that daycare is not leading to more infections overall. It may even be better to have those infections earlier." What do you think? Is it better to get those infections early or not?