GRANDPARENTS are the unpaid heroes of Irish childcare, but the incredible service they provide is causing burnout for some.
They are the leading providers of childcare to babies – caring for 12pc of infants and 11pc of older children.
But grandparents are often unpaid for their crucial help, according to Growing Up in Ireland surveys.
In addition, 50pc of grandparents provide regular babysitting services while a quarter take their grandchildren out every week.
But a leading doctor has even had to write "sick notes" for some elderly patients urging them to ease back on childcare– so they can show this advice to their adult children, if they're finding it hard to scale back on their commitments.
Dr Ronan Kavanagh, a consultant rheumatologist in the Galway Clinic, cited the example of a 72-year-old patient with bad arthritis pains that make it difficult to sleep or even dress herself – but her main worry is she won't be able to mind her two preschool grandchildren.
Dr Kavanagh wrote in his blog recently how such cases are not unique – as looking after small children was such hard work that he frequently saw young mums overburdened.
"Perhaps it's not surprising that older people, particularly those with a pre-existing condition such as arthritis, might struggle in the same situation," he wrote.
He said that a 2007 survey found no evidence that caring for grandchildren had dramatic and widespread negative effects on grandparents' health. But it did suggest ill effects might be determined by the circumstances of the carer.
Dr Kavanagh said that if grandparents felt up to the childminding role, they should keep going, but to be good carers they needed to look after themselves as well. This included making time to exercise, see their friends and visit the doctor where necessary.
"If you don't have a hobby or outlet, get one. Its easier to say no when you've got an art class to go to," he said.
It was also better for grandparents to set limits on their commitments early – ideally before the baby is even born.
Dr Kavanagh also cautioned against moving in with the young family, noting there was evidence "co-habiting" grandparents fared worse than those who lived independently.
Grandparents speak out: see Monday's 'Irish independent'