You’ve probably heard that kids who go to daycare get sick more often—but is there a bright side to all the sniffles and colds? Does exposure to more kids at a young age actually help your child develop better immunity?
At birth, a baby’s immune system is immature. Your baby does have some inborn protection, largely thanks to antibodies he or she was exposed to in utero. Breastfed babies also benefit from the antibodies in their mother’s milk. But an infant’s immune system really starts to strengthen when the baby is exposed to bacteria and viruses in the environment. Yes, these pathogens will sometimes make your baby feel lousy, but they also prompt the production of natural antibodies so he or she can better fight off infections in the future. That means kids who are around more germs from an early age will likely have stronger immune systems by the time they start school.
The notion that children in daycare get sick more often when they’re young but benefit from improved immunity later isn’t just a theory; there’s ample research to back it up. For example, a Canadian study published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed that kids who started group child care prior to age two-and-a-half contracted fewer respiratory and ear infections between ages five to eight compared to those who had not been in daycare. Researchers from the University of Arizona College of Medicine found that the protection might last even longer. In their study, children who had attended daycare as toddlers contracted fewer colds all the way up to age 13.
Daycare may also lower a child’s risk of developing asthma, according to a study from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Researchers discovered that kids who were prone to the condition because their mothers had asthma or allergies had lower levels of IgE antibodies (an indicator of allergic sensitivity) if they went to daycare. Interestingly, there’s also an association between group care and a lower risk of leukemia, though it’s not entirely clear why.
Despite these perks, parents may want to consider postponing daycare enrollment until a baby is 3 months old. Contagious infections that are normally relatively minor can be much more serious in newborns, and if your child develops a fever of 100.4 °F or greater before three months of age, he or she may need to be hospitalized.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, November 2018
- Children who attend daycare at a young age initially get sick more often, but early exposure to germs helps build immunity.
- Babies who go to daycare may have a lower risk of having asthma when they get older.
- Kids who attend daycare also seem less likely to develop childhood leukemia.
My mother in law always tells me “let that baby get in some dirt!”. I used to get mad. I want to just put them in a bubble from germs. But I get it.
Great article. I was always curious about this topic. It was very interesting and informative.
My son was in daycare up till he was about 18 months old and it seemed like he was constantly sick!!! We were in the Dr’s office Atleast twice a month with ear infections due to colds and strep throat! Once I decided to be a stay at home mom, he hasn’t been sick. He will be starting Kindergarten this upcoming year, so hopefully he will remain healthy! Great article!
Every time my son comes from school with a cold (which in his first year was every 2-3 weeks), I try to put a positive spin on it: “Think how he is broadening that immune system!” Somehow that makes the pile of snot seem better, right??
Both of my little ones are in part time preschools so this article makes me happy! I have also recently heard that a reason we have seen a rise in children with peanut allergies and other types of allergies is because of all of the hand sanitizers out here that parents tend to use. I use hand sanitizers every time we go out in public so now are our children not building immunity because the bacteria they are being exposed to in the environment is being killed off?
I’ve always wondered if this theory was true- interesting article! I’ve also heard the same about children who have pets. So many people have told me that animals also expose children to germs and help to build up their immune system. I wonder if this is also true….
Very interested in the pet question too!
And I’m can’t really speak to the part about building immunities, but I know that delaying daycare/school doesn’t keep the sickies away! My best friend had her son at home and with family until he was almost 2 years old. He had never really been sick. She finally put him in daycare a couple of times a week, and he instantly started getting sick on a regular basis (just colds and whatnot). So I think whether you get it over with early or start them later, they’re going to catch it all eventually! 😉
Check out this link from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
or this article:
Check out this video which talks about how dogs (or cats) that go outside and are around the baby seem to help babies have improved immune function, less allergies, and reduced risk of asthma:
We have two dogs and I would like to think they are one of the reasons my girls went pretty much the first two years of their lives without ear infections or any type of illness or infection!
These articles were very helpful-thank you!