Kids getting sick from day care is totally normal, experts say.

Here’s Why Kids Get Sick All The Time After Starting Day Care

It’s annoying, but it’s normal.

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Heading back to work after having a baby means starting day care for many families. And, unfortunately, starting day care means (for most families) starting an endless flow of illnesses. Seasoned day care families know that the runny noses start in September and basically flow straight on through ‘til summer. For those just getting started, though, it’s hard to not spend your first year of having a kid in day care wondering why your baby or toddler is always sick. However annoying and exhausting it may be to deal with a constant stream of viruses — particularly in the world we live in now — there is likely nothing unusual going on with your baby’s health. The basic truth is that the more your child is around others, the more likely potential germs and illnesses are to spread. So yeah, it might seem like your baby or toddler is always sick since starting day care, and it seems that way because that’s exactly what’s going on. Hopefully you’ll find some comfort in at least understanding what day care sickness is all about, how many day care colds would be considered too many colds, and when it’s time to give your pediatrician a call.

Why do kids get sick all the time when they start day care?

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If your baby or toddler is starting day care for the first time, then yes, you may want to stock up on hand soap and tissues. But take heart — lots of little colds at the start of group care is totally normal. “It is expected that young children will experience more episodes of various infections, especially involving respiratory and GI symptoms, when starting into a day care and school environment,” says Dr. Stanley Spinner, Chief Medical Officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics. “This is due to the increased exposure of the many infectious germs that the child will be exposed to in that new environment.”

Simply put, “starting day care means a lot more exposures,” says Dr. Mollie Grow, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s. “Children at day care also spend time in close proximity to each other and are exploring the world through their hands and mouths, easily spreading any viruses that they have.”

Is it a good thing for their immune systems to be exposed to colds at day care?

You may have heard that frequent or early exposure to germs might be a good thing for developing immune systems. But, is there any truth to the idea? Could it possibly be a good thing that your toddler keeps getting sick at day care? “In some cases, being exposed to certain illnesses at an early age builds up immunity to those infections, so they don’t get them again later on,” Dr. Katie Lockwood, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of a Philadelphia, tells Romper. “This may help children who were in day care have fewer absences during kindergarten. However, not all illnesses work this way and for example, getting a stomach bug in day care won’t protect you from getting a stomach bug later on.”

In other words, the immune system is complex and not all infections work in the same way, so the answer to whether or not it’s a good thing to have lots of early exposure to illness — as kids in day care do — is complicated. “Generally, the immune system has to get stronger and learn through exposures. One way we do that is through vaccines,” Grow explains. “The other way we do that is through being exposed in the environment. There is some benefit for the immune system to have exposures so that it learns how to respond to infections and promote health over the long run. There is some evidence that early immune building protects against auto-immune diseases later in life. “

How many colds is too many colds? When should parents worry?

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The range of how many colds is considered normal is quite broad, and will vary a bit kid-to-kid. “It’s fairly common for children in day care initially to be getting six to twelve infections per year, one every month or two,” Grow says. With such a broad spectrum, how can parents know when to worry about the number of day care colds their kid is bringing home? “We start to worry about immune deficiencies if the infections are so serious that they have to be hospitalized. Or if they have persistently very severe infections with high fevers. In those cases, we may think about immune problems. The vast majority of kids recover and eventually grow out of the frequent infections in day care.”

If a parent or caregiver is nervous or concerned at any point in a child’s illness, Spinner says to feel free reach out to a pediatrician. There is little point to being bashful with your doctor, especially if your gut is telling you that something is off. A quick chat with the advice nurse can often put your mind at ease.

How to keep your baby from getting sick at day care: Tips for avoiding infection

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Caregivers can do a few things to at least minimize the number of colds that kids in their first year of day care bring home. “First, learn about what the cleaning practices for infection control are at your day care,” Lockwood tells Romper. “Second, recognize that illnesses are common during childhood, and plan accordingly to have back-up childcare plans for sick-day coverage. Third, teach [children] age-appropriate tips for staying healthy, such as not touching their face or picking their nose and washing their hands.”

“We can use handwashing and covering coughs and runny noses, and keep kids home when they are sick,” says Grow, sharing ways that parents can protect their child and others from catching quite so many colds at day care.

However, it’s not reasonable to imagine you can entirely protect your child from every cold that goes around their day care or school. So, Grow also suggests we think “about the ways that we support the immune system overall. This includes providing time for adequate sleep, having healthy foods, and avoiding processed foods that have less nutrients.”

The main thing to know, though, is that you’re not alone if your baby is bringing home a lot of illnesses from their first year of day care. All those colds are annoying — particularly because half the time, parents get sick from day care colds, too — but they will pass, and if you’re ever worried about the frequency or severity of a cold or illness, don’t hesitate to contact your family’s pediatrician.


Dr. Stanley Spinner, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care

Dr. Mollie Grow, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s

Dr. Katie Lockwood, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of a Philadelphia

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