Is there any way to avoid the daycare plague? Well, maybe.

An expert offers some tips that might actually work.

It’s the story you hear, over and over. Mum goes back to work. Child goes into childcare. Child gets a cold. Whole family gets a cold. Child gets gastro. Whole family gets gastro. Child gets hand, foot and mouth disease. Mum wonders how much more of this hellish, germ-filled misery she can put up with.

Does it have to be this way?

Well… maybe not.

Robert Booy, professor in paediatrics & child health at Westmead Children’s Hospital, says you can’t expect your kid to sail through childhood without getting any infections at all – and in fact, you wouldn’t want to, because it’s good for kids to get some infections.

But there are things you can do to reduce the number of illnesses your child comes down with.

Colds. They blow.

1. Choose a small daycare. It can be hard when you don't have a lot of options, but Professor Booy says the ideal is somewhere with six or less children kept together. "It's all about the number of children in one room. So if you can go to a daycare where there's single-digit children rather than double-digit in one room, that's better."

2. Check out the centre before you commit to sending your child there. Professor Booy says you should ask questions and observe the staff at work. Is there a sink in the room with soap? Do staff encourage kids to regularly wash their hands? What do the staff do when they notice a child is sick? "Do they just go, 'Oh, well, we'll send them home at the end of the day,' or do they contact the parents and say, 'This child's got a fever and needs to go home straightaway'?" It's also good if the centre encourages outdoor play, because if kids aren't so close to each other, they're less likely to spread infection.


3. Make sure your own child knows about good hygiene. "Teach your children to wash their hands from a very young age," he suggests.

4. Get your child vaccinated. And we're not just talking the regular childhood immunisation schedule. "The safest way to prevent influenza is to have your child vaccinated against flu every year," Professor Booy says. "The flu vaccine is available in April."

5. Stick to the usual rules for looking after your kid's health. Don't rely on on quick fixes to boost your child's immune system. "Make sure they have a good nutritious diet, get exercise, and get plenty of sleep."

Being out in the fresh air is healthy. Mum was right.

It's tough seeing your child sick. Parents sometimes wonder if they should hold off and not put their kids into childcare until they're older. But Professor Booy doesn't think that would necessarily reduce the number of infections they get.

"It wouldn't make much of a difference," he believes.

He says it's important not to get too stressed when your child does get sick. It's believed that kids who are exposed to infections in childhood are less likely to develop asthma and eczema.

"So treat it as a bonus when you do get the occasional infection," Professor Booy suggests.

Have your kids suffered through the daycare plague?

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