‘With Swedish childcare everyone’s a winner’

Our northern Sweden correspondent, Paul Connolly, loves the Swedish "dagis" system - luckily so do his twin daughters, who have just started daycare in the Nordic nation.

'With Swedish childcare everyone's a winner'
British father Paul Connolly's twins are growing up in northern Sweden. Photo: Private

As a father of twins I've garnered a good few new friends who also have been 'blessed' with two toddling whirlwinds. The one thing all my Swedish-residing twin parents give thanks for is the Swedish daycare system, "dagis".

Funnily enough, daycare is also the one aspect of twin parenting that drives my American and British friends barmy. Daycare is essential for parents of twins, if they are to have any kind of life outside nappies, tantrums and feeding. Two toddlers of the same age aren't double the amount of work as one, they're at least treble. They egg each other on, try to impress one another with naughty antics, love a good food fight and compete with one another to present us with the most interestingly-filled nappy.

So, when I told a UK-based twin parent of our plans to send our girls to daycare when they reached 18 months, she was inspired to look into similar provisions for her double troubles. She really wanted to get back to work, part-time. Three days later she sent me an e-mail that made me almost white in the face. For the same number of hours that our two spent tormenting local children in Sweden, she would have to pay 100 times more each month in the UK. No, that's not a typo. There really should be two noughts there. And, no, she doesn't live in expensive southern England; she lives near Newcastle, up north. So, she simply cannot afford to send her boys to nursery and is forced to forget about her career for the time being.

Sweden is at the vanguard of social progressivism and nowhere is this more obvious than with daycare. Our daycare's curriculum features a section on values. This section emphasises the importance of ensuring that each child develops openness, respect, solidarity, responsiblity and empathy. Another section underlines that those with a mother tongue other than Swedish should be able to develop their cultural identity and their ability to communicate in both Swedish and their mother tongue. These are all valuable, inclusive values – I feel comfortable that this system is helping to nurture my girls.

Paul Connolly's twin girls are learning Swedish at dagis. Photo: Private

I also feel very comfortable with the standards of the teachers. Like the hospital staff we've encountered up here in the north who were natural caregivers, our girls' teachers were simply born to look after toddlers. Their patience is endless, their words are tender and their guidance faultless. After just a week of exposure to these three women, our girls were kissing them goodbye. After 21 months, I barely qualify for a kiss from my two beautiful monsters.

Feedback from friends in other countries has been, at best, spotty. There are tales of children being left alone for long stretches, full nappies being ignored, inadequate food being provided. And that's paying an average of around £200 (2580 kronor) per week in the UK and $275 (2300 kronor)in the U.S.

It's possible we've just been lucky – maybe our förskola is remarkable. Or perhaps the Swedes have just got their generous daycare provisions bang on. Even when you take Swedish tax and UK childcare vouchers into consideration, a Swedish couple paying the maximum childcare rate of 1,260 kronor per child for two children, need to earn around 25 percent less than an English couple to enjoy the same level of childcare and a comparable standard of living.

But it's not just about fairness and quality of life. Economically, cheap or free childcare makes perfect sense. Recent research has indicated that the increased tax revenues that would result from providing cheap, Swedish-style care for all UK pre-school children would outstrip the initial cost.

Most important of all, though, is it's good for our girls and their future. In small rural communities like ours, friendships are made very early in life and attending a dagis at their age should stand them in good stead if we do decide to stay in northern Sweden for the long-term. In the meantime, their parents get to have a cup of tea and read the newspaper in peace…

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Acupuncture could help your baby stop crying: study

Swedish researchers say acupuncture "appears to reduce crying" in babies suffering from colic.

Acupuncture could help your baby stop crying: study
File photo of a five-week old baby. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

But their work was criticized by colleagues in the medical field, with one calling the study methodology “appalling”.

A duo from Lund University's medicine faculty tested the traditional Chinese needle-piercing remedy in a trial involving nearly 150 babies between two and eight weeks old.

They reported their results in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, published by the BMJ – formerly known as the British Medical Journal.

Compared to babies who did not undergo the needle treatment, infants who received acupuncture over two weeks exhibited “a significant relative reduction” in crying, the team found.

Such research can be controversial. Acupuncture is invasive, potentially painful, and its benefits are not universally accepted.

Organizations such as the British Medical Acupuncture Society says it is used to treat muscle and postoperative pain, as well as nausea.

But some think acupuncture's effects are that of a placebo, meaning people feel better because they believe it works. The National Institutes of Health, the main UN research agency, says there is “considerable controversy” around its value.

Colic affects as many as one in five families, and is diagnosed when a baby cries for more than three hours per day on more than three days per week.

Why it occurs is not well understood. Indigestion, trapped wind and intolerance to cows' milk have been identified as possible causes.

For the study, colicky babies were divided into three groups of 49. One received “minimal” acupuncture treatment, while another was given up to five 30-second needlings per session. The third group was not given any needle treatment.

“Significantly fewer infants who received acupuncture continued to cry/fuss excessively,” the researchers concluded.

This suggested “acupuncture may be an effective treatment option” for babies crying more than three hours a day.

File photo of an adult person receiving acupuncture. Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Criticism of the study was harsh. David Colquhoun, a professor of pharmacology at University College London, described the researchers' analysis of data as “incompetent” and “appalling”.

The study “certainly doesn't show that it [acupuncture] works”, he told the Science Media Centre.

“What parent would think that sticking needles into their baby would stop it crying? The idea sounds bizarre. It is.”

Edzard Ernst from the University of Exeter said the study showed “almost the opposite of what the authors conclude”.

“We know that colicky babies respond even to minimal attention, and this trial confirms that a little additional TLC” – Tender Loving Care – “will generate an effect”.

A total of 388 acupuncture treatments were performed on the babies, the authors reported. On 200 occasions the infant did not cry at all after being pierced, 157 times they cried for up to a minute, and 31 times for more than that.

“The acupuncturists reported bleeding (a single drop of blood) on 15 occasions,” the authors said.

The treatment “may be considered ethically acceptable” if it managed to reduce excessive crying in the longer term, they added.

The report did not indicate what acupuncture points were used.

Article written by AFP's Mariètte Le Roux.