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Health Team

Day care helps children build immunity to diseases

Posted December 10, 2010 1:11 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2010 6:16 p.m. EST

Parents who feel guilty sending their children to day care can take relief from new medical research. Doctors found that daycare can help strengthen children's immunity to diseases.

— Parents who feel guilty sending their children to day care can take relief from new medical research. Doctors found that day care can help strengthen children's immunity to diseases.

Like many mothers, Joann Lombardo was torn about her decision to put her baby daughter in day care and go back to work.

"At one point, I thought, 'OK, you know what, maybe it's time I stay home, because I started feeling guilty," she said. "She's constantly sick. She's so little."

Other moms, though, erased Lombardo's anxiety.

"A lot of people said hang in there, because by the time your daughter reaches kindergarten, she's never going to be sick," she said.

A report in the December issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine backs up with that those parents already knew.

Researchers found that children who attend large group day care facilities before age 2½ appear to develop more respiratory and ear infections at that age, but fewer illnesses later.

"These children who acquire lots of infections during day care, first of all, it did not harm them. It actually stimulated their immune systems," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventative Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Children in smaller day cares or who stayed at home had fewer illnesses when they were young but got sick once they went to school.

Lombardo said that was worse for children in the long run.

"It's better off that they miss the school now with the day care as opposed to when they are actually in the school system," she said.

Researchers said there is a possibility that stimulating the immune system early could also give long-term protection against asthma, but more studies are necessary.