Does Day Care increase stress hormones in children?

What are the effects on a child going into day care? Dr Aric Sigman, a fellow of the Society of Biology, author of a recent study showing the negative aspects of it, and Kate Groucutt of the charity, the Day Care Trust, debated the issue this morning on BBC Radio 4.

According to research, putting children into day care may change their brain structure and function. The study by Dr Aric Sigman found that 70-80% of children in day care centres showed increasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout each day they were there. His article, titled ‘Mother Superior? The Biological Effects Of Day Care’, proposes that higher levels of cortisol in children could have long-term implications for their adult health.

He wrote that the human response to fear and uncertainty is affected by early childcare experiences, and prolonged exposure to cortisol can be toxic to the nervous system. Dr Sigman's report also found that the amount of attention given by a child's mother in early childhood can alter the part of the brain involved in forming memory, and so impact on whether he or she suffers attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance.

He concluded that the three key factors in the impact of childcare on stress levels are the quality of the care, the time spent in care and the age when the child is put into day care.