Sickness and daycare what to expect

Going back to work after having your baby is challenging for many reasons. No matter how much time you are able to take off, it will never feel like enough. It’s hard to transition from spending every waking moment with your baby to leaving them in the care of someone else.

One of the things I found most challenging was that daycare seemed to be like a petri dish for bacterial and viral infections. I was warned by other working moms to brace myself for the “daycare funk.” Wow, I was not prepared.

When my son Theo started daycare, he was constantly sick with one cold that just seemed to run into the next. The runny noses, ear infections, coughing and fevers seemed endless. Scheduling doctors’ appointments and taking sick days off work were frequent occurrences. It was at times maddening. Luckily, once Theo made it through his first year of daycare, the funk seemed to come less and less and now I’d say he is mostly healthy. The only thing that got me through was the hope that Theo was building up a strong immune system that would make him less likely to get sick when he gets older.

With our second one on the way, I’m bracing myself for another whirlwind of sickness when it’s time for her to start daycare. I thought I might feel better about it if I spoke with a pediatrician and asked him some questions about sickness and daycare. So, I reached out to Dr. Joseph Gigante, a pediatrician at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, and here’s what I found out.

Do young children in daycare get sick more often than kids who stay at home?
The short answer is yes. Young children who attend daycare are at greater risk for catching colds than kids who stay home. This is especially true for children up to 2 years of age and those without siblings. The risk is greatest when kids first head to daycare.

Is it true that kids in daycare eventually build up immunity and may even have fewer illnesses when they’re older?
Yes. There is a higher illness rate among children who are placed before age 2-1/2 in day care centers with relatively large groups of 8 to 12 children. Compared with children who were cared for in their homes, these children had more respiratory and ear inflections during early preschool and the same risk of infection between ages 3-1/2 and 4-1/2. However, they had lower rates of infection between ages 5 and 8. Children who stayed home as infants and toddlers, then entered preschool after age 3-1/2, tend to get more ear infections in preschool, but not respiratory infections. So while children placed in daycare early do tend to get sick more often, they also stay healthier than other kids later in elementary school, apparently because of a strengthened immune system.

Does a child have to go through a “sick period” to build up immunity, whether when they start daycare or later when they start school?
Children do frequently pass infections to each other in daycares, especially during the winter months. Children develop most of their infections during the first winter season they are in daycare. After that first winter season, they tend to build up their immunity and have fewer infections for the subsequent winters. Children who stayed at home as infants do tend to get more ear infections when they start school.

What can parents with children in daycare do to help keep their children stay well?
Parents can take steps to minimize the chances of their child getting sick. The daycare should have a strict policy of not allowing sick children to attend. Caregivers (parents as well as daycare staff) should routinely wash their hands, especially after changing diapers and blowing noses. With regard to nutrition, infants who breastfeed have fewer infections than children who formula feed. Lastly, be sure your child gets all the recommended immunizations to minimize the risk of serious infections.

Ashley Culver is the media relations manager for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Ashley is a wife and mom to their two year old son, and is expecting her second child in December. In her spare time she enjoys running and writing songs on her upright piano and acoustic guitar.


How to help teen drivers stay safe

Growing up, my parents were there for every fall, bump, bruise and scrape and being the accident prone child I was I’m sure they felt like pros at protecting me. But, when it came time for me to drive as a teen, I could see the fear and helplessness in their eyes as they handed over the keys and let me loose on the winding back roads of East Tennessee. I cannot imagine how that feels as a parent knowing you can no longer consistently be by your child’s side to protect them, only being able to trust in the knowledge you have instilled in them. If you are getting ready to hand over the keys or already have a teen on the road, here are a few tips to ensure that your teen is able to make safe driving choices when you are not around.

Create a family contract: Outline driving behaviors and expectations between you and your teen driver. Many teens I work with in our teen driver program are grossly unaware of the Graduated Drivers Licensing Law. Make sure that they (and you!) are aware and are following the provisions of this law. Create consequences that you decide on together for breaking any curfew, rules, or driving behaviors. Empowering your teen to be part of this process through assisting with creating the content of the contract will help them feel a sense of ownership and independence and be more likely to follow it. The Allstate Foundation offers a great example of a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement here.

Model behavior: There is no better time to check your own driving habits to see how far you have drifted from safety than when teaching a new driver. Swallow some pride and realize what things you are doing that are modeling unsafe driving behaviors and make those changes. Monkey see, Monkey do, right? If you are not wearing your seat belt or road raging in traffic speeding down the highway, guess what your teen is probably going to do…? The Ford Driving Skills For Life offers an award winning online academy showcasing various safe driving modules. Hey, I went through it for myself and even learned a thing or two. It’s pretty neat!

Practice: Most often, teen crashes are due to inexperience and teens are most likely to get into a crash during the first 6 months of licensure. As scary as I’m sure it may seem, take time to practice with your teen in a variety of situations. Ensure they are being exposed to different driving elements and situations with you there to coach them.

Establish ground rules: I can’t tell you how many times the teens I encounter say “Ms. Brooks, we get in trouble if we don’t answer our phone while driving if it is our parents, but then we aren’t supposed to be on the phone while driving—what do they expect us to do?!”. Set ground rules about communication and driving. No phone call or text is important enough to risk your precious child’s life or the lives of others. I have heard other teens say that they text/call their parents when they are going somewhere and another text/call when they arrive. Some think that it is fun to establish a hashtag that they can send out to let everyone know they are unavailable while driving. Make it unique to your family and make it fun so your teen will want to participate instead of thinking it’s just something else they HAVE to do.

Nationally, Teen Driver Safety awareness is celebrated in late October, this year falling on the 19th-25th. But when you have a teen on the road or getting ready to drive, every opportunity is time to recognize and encourage safe driving habits. What safe driving habits will you adopt or enforce with your teen driver this month?

For more safe driving resources and to learn about our hospital’s teen motor vehicle safety program, click here.

Brooks Gaut is an injury prevention program assistant here at the Children’s Hospital with a background in child life. Outside of keeping people safe through education and awareness, she enjoys trying new Pinterest recipes & crafts, spending time with her 2 dachshunds, Oscar and Willy, and watching college sports.

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