Do Dirty Pacifiers = Healthy Kids?
A newborn care expert on the pros and cons of the study that says spit-cleaning a dirty pacifier can actually be good for your baby.
It’s the dirty little secret of many a mom: Your baby’s pacifier falls to the ground—again!—and you give it a quick suck and pop it right back in. Not everyone will admit to it, but now there’s a new reason to come clean: a study that says spit-cleaning your baby’s pacifier could help prevent a host of health issues, including allergies, asthma, and eczema.
Does this mean mommy spit is magical? According to researchers, the “magic” here appears to be … germs. As the New York Times reports, the study’s findings support the “hygiene hypothesis,” the idea that some degree of exposure to germs at an early age can benefit a child’s immune system.
We asked Brandi Jordan, MSW, IBCLC, board-certified lactation consultant, newborn care specialist, and owner of the The Cradle Company, a parenting center in Los Angeles, to explain the connection between dirty pacifiers and healthy kids—and where parents need to draw the line on germs and grime.
Can you explain this “hygiene hypothesis” and where spit-cleaning your baby’s pacifier fits in?
Basically, it is the idea that we are keeping our children’s environment too clean, and in doing so are actually preventing our kids’ immune systems from gaining the strength and ability to fight germs they are exposed to. Whether true or not, what we do know is that the immune system needs to be stimulated to perform properly, so exposing your infant to a normal amount of germs is the first step to preventing illnesses that may trigger asthma episodes and allergies. Parents can achieve this exposure in all sorts of ways, including, I suppose, sticking a dirty pacifier in your mouth and then theirs.
What about passing on cavity-causing bacteria?
Scientists have found an increased risk of dental cavities when infants are exposed to bacteria in saliva from parents who have poor dental health. To me, this highlights what might be the bigger point in this pacifier debate: let’s be practical. Spit-cleaning should not be the preferred way to clean pacifiers, but a permissible exception to the rule.
When it is better to rinse or boil the pacifier?
If you are on vacation and walking the streets of Rome and you happen to drop your baby’s only pacifier, you don’t have to beat yourself up when you clean it in your mouth. Brush your baby’s gums and teeth when you get back to your hotel (you should be doing this daily, anyway). However, if you are home and can simply give your infant a new one until you properly clean one that dropped on the floor, than by all means do that! There are other ways of exposing your infant to normal bacteria that can help boost their immune systems. You don’t have to actively shovel bacteria into their little mouths.
If you or your child has a serious infection such as strep throat, a highly contagious virus like hand-foot-mouth disease, or if the parent suffers from cold sores and has an active sore on or in the mouth, it would be important to sterilize the pacifier as an infant could become re-infected when exposed to these types of illnesses.
If your pacifier drops in a toilet inside a shopping mall public restroom, it might be a good idea just let that one go.
Some moms are just not going to be into spit-cleaning pacifiers—ever. How else can we make sure children are exposed to the right amounts of germs?
Not-so controversial ways might be taking your baby to the park [to interact with other children] and breastfeeding baby, during which the baby gets all mommy’s immunities. Kissing, hugging and loving on baby and letting family members get in on the action also works. Through basic human contact, we actually share a wealth of germs. So, share the wealth!
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