Caring for infants
The nursery is a type of organised child care intended for infants below the age of three and aimed at promoting children’s psychophysical, emotional and social development, as well as enabling the mother to work outside the home. Since this is a period of the child’s most intense growth and development, external influences have a significant role (both positive and negative). This makes the nursery one of the most important childhood facilities which can influence – whether in a positive or negative way – the child’s growth and development.
Nowadays, nurseries are undergoing a gradual transformation: what was once a strictly social facility is now becoming a facility aimed at providing proper care, nutrition and upbringing, fighting illnesses and promoting health and upbringing habits related to child care, nutrition and child rearing within the family. This facility provides child care while the mother is at work; however, it is meant to function as a supplement for family care, not a substitute for it.
Despite increasing health standards and expert work featured in nurseries, there are numerous harmful factors linked to early separation of children from their parents and their increased exposure to various disease causative agents.
Early separation (between the ages of 6 and 12 months) has a negative effect on the early emotional development of infants, who at this age need a person who is constantly present and ready to satisfy their needs without hesitation. This fundamental need is part of the development of the so-called secure type of attachment, a relationship marked by mutual trust, harmony and stability. This type of attachment is usually established with the mother (medical science refers to the person who has developed the aforementioned relationship with the child as the primary caregiver); she is the one who guarantees that the child will be safe and all their needs met. From a professional standpoint, it would be ideal for the child to remain with the mother; however, professional demands placed before young mothers are incompatible with this ideal, so the family seeks help from grandparents or babysitters. In addition to the parents, other people from the infant’s environment also create specific relationships with them in their own individual ways. This is also true of the babysitter. The best indication of a successful connection between the two is the infant’s reaction to the babysitter’s arrival (joy, clear signs of acceptance), which should help parents develop trust in a person they have not known very well or for very long. While the relationship between the infant and the babysitter is being established, parental presence is highly recommended. Expressions of love and affection indicate a bond between the babysitter and the infant. Another positive indication is the absence of nervous episodes or intolerance which may temporarily appear in stressful situations.
Attending children’s groups at an early age is inevitably linked to increased exposure to numerous disease causative agents. Most common among these are viruses that cause respiratory tract infections. Since the infant’s immune system is not yet fully developed, infections are quite frequent (on average, 2–3 times a month). Due to their aggressiveness, certain viruses can cause severe types of infections. Naturally, some infants contract illnesses only slightly more frequently than they did before joining the group, while the majority of the children contract an average number of infections. However, a small percentage of infants (1–2%) contract severe, life-threatening infections shortly after joining a child group. These infants are not yet ready for the nursery: parents should keep them at home for another 6 to 12 months (at least) and then try again. Children who first attend the nursery at the age of 12 months need about 2 to 3 years to develop immunity and contract illnesses at the same rate as children who do not attend a child group. This period of “immunity building” is shorter for children who are starting kindergarten (after the age of 3) and lasts on average for 1 to 2 years. Young children who are still at home, but whose older siblings attend a child group, are exposed to the same disease causative agents at home. Once they start kindergarten, the “immunity building” period will last for a shorter time since much of the “work” has already been “done” at home.
Hand hygiene (regular handwashing for both children and caregivers) and disinfecting toys and play and eating areas are equally important for both nursery and stay-at-home children. It is important to ensure sufficient time for outdoor play and avoid overheated and dry air which facilitates the contracting of respiratory tract inflammations in indoor areas.