Babies placed in creche twice as likely to fall ill
* Survey studied families of 11,000 infants
BABIES attending creches are twice as likely to get ill as those cared for at home.
Chest infections, colds, ear infections, asthma and severe vomiting and diarrhoea are all significantly more common amongst creche-going infants.
Infants in creches were 2.5 times more likely to have been treated for a chest infection and twice as likely to have had an ear infection or wheezing or asthma, a major new study has shown.
There was not much difference in health risks between babies cared for at home by their parents or in the homes of relatives or childminders.
The Growing Up in Ireland survey studied the families of 11,000 nine-month-old babies in Ireland. It found that 40pc were in non-parental childcare by that age, with mothers on low incomes most likely to be back at work earlier.
Some 42pc of these children were cared for by relatives, 31pc by childminders and 27pc were in creches.
The higher illness rates amongst babies in creches applied even when adjusted for other factors, such as family income and health at birth, though interestingly, girls were less likely to get ill than boys.
Overall, some 30pc of babies in creches were rated as "less healthy" by their parent, compared with 16pc of babies being looked after at home.
Report co-author Dr Frances McGinnity said the impact of this would have to be tracked over time to see if these babies were more likely to have continued health problems, as it was also possible they would build up immunity due to early exposure to infection.
The study by the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College researchers found that very few mothers returned to work before their baby was six months old, and many of those who did were self-employed and would not get maternity benefit.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the Government was looking at the issue of social welfare benefits for the self-employed, but it could also be the case that they felt more pressure to return to work to look after their businesses.
"The findings provide a valuable backdrop to ongoing policy discussions relating to early childhood services and matters of cost, choice and quality of childcare," she said.
A quarter of mothers return to work at around six months when paid maternity leave ends, and 45pc are back by the time the baby reaches nine months.
Mothers on lower incomes tended to return earlier, whereas higher earners are more likely to take unpaid maternity leave – but those with higher qualifications were more likely to return to work ultimately.
However, less than a third of mothers with three or more children had returned to work by nine months compared with half of first-time mothers.
Mothers mainly cited financial reasons for their decision to return to work though getting out of the house and career development also played a role.