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Study: Kids with working moms not developmentally harmed

Monday, August 9, 2010  
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Babies raised by working mothers don't necessarily suffer cognitive setbacks, according to a new Columbia University study.

As reported in the Washington Post, researchers measuring the entire effect of maternal employment on childhood development found "that the overall effect of 1st-year maternal employment on child development is neutral.”

Based on data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care, which followed more than 1,000 children through first grade, the Columbia University study found infants raised by mothers with full-time jobs scored somewhat lower on cognitive tests, deficits that persisted into first grade. But that negative effect was offset by several positives: working mothers had higher income and were more likely to seek high-quality childcare; they also displayed greater "maternal sensitivity,” the Post reported.

Those positives canceled out the negatives, the study concluded. "We can say now, from this study, what we couldn't say before: There's a slight risk, and here's the three things that you, Mom, can do to make a difference,” Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, the lead author, told the newspaper. "This particular research has a positive message for mothers that the earlier research didn't.”

The study, "First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First 7 Years,” reaffirmed that women who work full time in the first year of motherhood risk mild developmental harm to their children. Part-time employment and full-time employment after the first year have no negative effect.

A mother with a full-time job may not provide an infant "the kinds of intensive interaction that babies require,” needs that diminish in the toddler years, Brooks-Gunn told the newspaper. High-quality childcare also is hard to find for an infant.

The new study suggests mothers can decide, without guilt, "whether they want to stay home with their children,” Greg Duncan, a scholar at the University of California at Irvine, who is president of the Society for Research in Child Development, said.

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