Some members of my family wash their infant’s pacifiers with hospital-like sterilization processes every time it hits the ground, while others simply pick it up and pop it in their own mouth for a quick cleaning. Neither child seems adversely affected, but my own germaphobia caused me to question the parents who shared their baby’s pacifier. Much to my surprise, they were actually, unknowingly, helping their child fight allergies!

A study done on 184 infants from birth to 36 months revealed that parents who “cleaned” their child’s pacifier through sucking on it actually transferred microbes that helped fight off asthma and eczema. Much like breastfeeding, this method of cleaning off the pacifier passed on important bodily chemicals that protected their child from common allergies that can develop in young children. I still think it’s terribly gross to wipe off a child’s pacifier by sucking on it, but most professionals tend to agree that it might be the best practice, if you can stand it. It’s actually much better than rinsing it off in the sink, which can leave your child exposed to skin or respiratory allergies. Boiling the pacifier, rinsing it, or throwing it away and getting a new one only isolates your child and keeps them in a more sterile environment. While this might seem like a good thing, your child will eventually have to interact with their world, germs and all.

Besides wiping off the normal things like dirt and dander, parents are also getting rid of a film of bacteria, fungus, and mold that accumulates on pacifiers. While undeniable grody, this covering of bacteria and fungus won’t actually cause an adult to become sick. This is because we’ve built up immunities to basic germs. However, children can become quite ill if this layer of bacteria and slime isn’t periodically covered by a parent’s protective saliva. This exposure to dirt, grime, and bacteria is actually beneficial for children, provided that the worst is covered by their parent’s microbes and immunities. The more they’re exposed to their environments in safe amounts the less likely they are to experience severe illnesses later in their childhoods.

The microbes that are passed from the adults to the children haven’t been specifically identified beyond their ability to protect children from allergies. Along with sharing a pacifier, many doctors would also recommend breastfeeding for at least four to six months if the mother is able. This will increase the amount of antibodies the child receives and will strengthen their immune system even further.

Sources:

  • Hesselmar, B., Sjöberg, F., Saalman, R., Åberg, N., Adlerberth, I., & Wold, A. E. (2013). Pacifier cleaning practices and risk of allergy development. Pediatrics,131(6), 1829-1837.
  • Gray, B. B. (2013, June 3). Want babies without allergies? try this. WebMD. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
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