Contrary to studies, some experts say putting your child in a creche can help their development. Deirdre Reynolds reports
It's the eternal tug-of-war of working mums everywhere -- whether to hand over care of your child to a stranger or sacrifice your career to do it yourself.
And as new mums weigh up their options, the conflicting advice of experts on the pros and cons of day care can't help much either.
Over the years, research has claimed that the children of working mothers are six times more likely to be fat, score worse in reading and maths tests, have slower emotional development and are even more likely to be hospitalised in an accident.
And in the latest study to point a finger at working mums, Dr Aric Sigman found that up to 80% of children in day care also suffer higher levels of stress hormone cortisol -- which could have a long-term effect on their health.
With such scientific scaremongering, it's no wonder that 57% of women said they would prefer to be a stay-at-home mum if money weren't an issue, according to a survey by the Maternity and Infant Awards.
In reality though, 42.5% currently pay for childcare.
"It's only natural that all mums would like to take care of their own children," says Angela Canavan of early years training specialists Canavan Byrne, who are judging the creche category of the awards which take place next month. "In the current environment however, it's not always an option. It's a dilemma -- particularly for first-time mothers."
But does day care really damage your baby like Dr Sigman and others say?
"I think it can be quite the opposite," argues Angela.
"The idea of pre-school is to encourage your child to interact with other children and become an active learner and problem solver.
"A good creche should provide your child with a stimulating environment and have highly qualified staff trained in all areas of caring for the child."
Although working mums typically beat themselves up about getting the right balance, they spend almost as much one-on-one time a day with their children as stay-at-home mums -- 150 minutes compared to 171 minutes, according to the OECD.
When it comes to spending time with your kids, it's quality not quantity that counts says child psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley.
"I don't think parenting is a numbers game," she says. "The important thing is that children get opportunities to have fun with their parents.
"If a mother gets home from work and spends 45 minutes haring around the living room dressed up as a belly dancer, or making drums out of yoghurt pots, before a quick dinner and bed, that could easily be enough."
"For me, day care is a neccessary evil," explains mum-of-two Gina Miltiadou, publisher of Easy Parenting -- an Irish magazine for mums and dads.
"If you want or need to work, then you have no other option than to send your child to daycare.
"But I don't think there's any point in being wracked with guilt. Choose the best childcare you can afford -- and then enjoy the financial security and sanity it can provide."
Regulation cots lined up against the wall and babies blue in the face bellowing for attention is a thing of the past, reassures Angela Canavan.
"Unfortunately, when one creche gets a bad name, it can tar the entire industry," she says. "But pre-school care is one of the most regulated sectors in Ireland at the moment and there are lots of great providers out there.
"My advice for parents is to do your homework -- decide on the type of care that's best fitted to your lifestyle, whether it's a childminder or creche, gather as much information as possible about services in your area and don't be afraid to ask questions.
"All good services should offer a settling-in period and operate an open door policy, so you can be sure it's right for you and your child."