Parents: Suck Your Baby's Pacifier First To Help Ward Off Allergies
May 6, 2013

Parents: Suck Your Baby’s Pacifier First To Help Ward Off Allergies

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

When a baby´s pacifier falls to the ground, what´s the best way to clean off the ℠business end´? Wipe away any dirt? Rinse it in boiling water?

A new study on Swedish babies suggests that the best thing to do for the child is to lick or suck the pacifier and then place it back in baby´s mouth.

While that act may seem repulsive to some, researchers from University of Gothenburg in Sweden who conducted the study found that allowing a young child to ingest small amounts of their parents´ saliva can help to stimulate the immune system and lower the risk of allergic conditions like asthma and eczema.

The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, adds to a growing body of evidence that supports the notion that children are overly sanitary and not exposed to enough microbes.

"We think that these bacteria ... stimulate the immune system," in a positive way, said lead author Bill Hesselmar. He told Rob Stein of NPR that this stimulation could lead to a better functioning immune system and potentially prevent it from falsely reacting to peanuts, pollen and other allergens.

In the study, the Swedish team examined 184 full-term infants whose mothers had volunteered to participate. About 80 percent of the children had at least one allergic parent.

When the children were 6-months-old, researchers interviewed the parents on pacifier habits and other information. Of the infants who were using a pacifier, 83 percent of their parents said they used tap water to clean a dirty pacifier; 54 percent said they used boiling water; and 48 percent said they used their mouths at least once.

At the 18-month mark, 25 percent of the children had eczema, 5 percent had asthma, 15 percent had food sensitivities, and 2 percent were sensitive to inhaled allergens, the researchers said.

Parental pacifier sucking was associated with lower risk of eczema and asthma, but not allergic sensitivities.

"Eczema is the best disease to choose [as a marker] if you want to see if a young child is becoming allergic," Hesselmar said.

The researchers also looked at how allergies were related to either cesarean or vaginal births. They found that both vaginal delivery and parental pacifier sucking were separately connected with a reduced risk of developing eczema, with the incidence of the skin condition being lowest among infants who fell into both categories and highest among those covered by neither category.

"Thus, vaginal delivery, which is a source for transfer of a complex microbiota from mother to infant and parent and infant sharing of a pacifier might both lead to microbial stimulation, with beneficial effects on allergy development," the authors wrote in their report.

The authors of the study noted that a relatively small sample size was included in their study and further research should be conducted to strengthen the finding they made.

Elizabeth Matsui of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center reacted to the study´s findings by suggesting that today´s toddlers may be growing up too clean.

"We are much less likely to be exposed to organisms in water – parasites, for example – so the idea is there is much less for the immune system to fight off. So it starts reacting to things that perhaps it should be ignoring," Matsui told NPR.