A new study says that working mothers are not necessarily harmful to child development.
Researchers at Columbia University say they are among the first to measure the full effect of maternal employment on child development.
In a 113-page monograph, released this week, the authors conclude "that the overall effect of 1st-year maternal employment on child development is neutral."
The report is based on data from the most comprehensive child-care study to date, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care.
It followed more than 1,000 children from 10 geographic areas through first grade, tracking their development and family characteristics.
Infants raised by mothers with full-time jobs scored somewhat lower on cognitive tests, deficits that persisted into first grade.
Working mothers had higher income. They were more likely to seek high-quality childcare. And they displayed greater "maternal sensitivity," or responsiveness toward their children, than stay-at-home mothers.
"This particular research has a positive message for mothers that the earlier research didn't," the Washington Post quoted Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, the lead author as saying.
The study reaffirms the now-established point that women who work full time in the first year of motherhood risk mild developmental harm to their children.
Part-time employment has no negative effect, nor does it matter whether a mother works full time after the first year.