June 13, 2011 -- Just a few hours formal child care per week can help shield toddlers from some of the lingering effects of their mom’s depression.
Maternal depression has been linked to an increased risk of certain behavior problems in children, but the new study shows that just over three hours a week of formal child care can help offset these risks. Moms with recurrent depression were more likely to have children with behavioral problems reported at age 5 unless their child spent more than three hours a week in formal child care at age 2, the study showed.
“Our results ... suggest that modest amounts of formal child care in toddlerhood for the children of mothers with recurrent depressive symptoms can have enduring benefits for the emotional and behavioral state of the child around the time they transition to school,” conclude the study authors who were led by Lynne C. Giles, MPH, PhD, of the University of Adelaide in South Australia. The new findings appear in Pediatrics.
In the study, formal child care referred to care received in a day care center or by a paid caregiver such as a nanny. Informal child care, which was defined as care provided outside of the home by a relative or friend, did not have the same protective effect, the study showed.
Of the 438 moms in the new study, 69% showed no signs or symptoms of depression, 20% reported intermittent depressive symptoms, and 11% had recurrent depression symptoms. The new findings did not hold among moms with intermittent depressive symptoms.
The study did have its share of limitations including the fact that the mothers reported on their children’s behavioral issues, and depressed parents may not be able to give such reliable accounts.
Still, “these results are compelling because they suggest that just a few hours a week of formal child care can serve as some sort of a mediating factor between maternal depression and child behavior,” says Rahil Briggs, PsyD, a child psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center Montefiore in New York.