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pacifier

Sucking on your baby’s pacifier may protect them from allergies

Many parents clean their baby’s pacifier by sucking on the silicone nipple. As it turns out, this may actually be a very helpful practice that boosts the child’s immune system and offers protection against allergies.

pacifier

Credit: Pixabay.

Researchers at Henry Ford Health System tracked levels of a protein linked to allergies, the IgE antibody, in 74 infants whose mothers reported giving them pacifiers to use. Fathers were not included in this study.

Some mothers said they sterilized the pacifiers in boiling water or cleaned them with soap and water, while others said they simply sucked on them. Researchers compared the babies’ IgE levels at birth, six months, and 18 months for each cleaning method.

The babies whose parents sucked on their pacifier to clean it had lower levels of this antibody, which theoretically makes them less susceptible to allergies and asthma. It’s possible that the protective effects may be due to parents passing on healthy oral bacteria in their saliva, which could strengthen the child’s immune system. The conclusion seems to be supported by a previous study published in 2013 by Swedish researchers, who likewise found an association between parents sucking on their baby’s pacifiers and a reduced risk of allergy development.

“Although we can’t say there’s a cause and effect relationship, we can say the microbes a child is exposed to early on in life will affect their immune system development,” said Eliane Abou-Jaoude, the study’s lead author.

“From our data, we can tell that the children whose pacifiers were cleaned by their parents sucking on the pacifier, those children had lower IgE levels around 10 months of age through 18 months of age.”

[panel style=”panel-warning” title=”Allergies” footer=””]An allergy is the response of the body’s immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollen, foods, or house dust mite. This hypersensitivity causes the body to overreact by producing a disproportionate immune response when contacting an allergen. In some cases, the response can be so strong that the body enters anaphylactic shock — with potentially fatal consequences.

It’s not clear what causes allergies or why some people are more predisposed than others. Studies so far have linked both genetic and environmental factors to allergies. What’s certain, it seems, is that allergies are on the rise regardless of gender or ethnic background. According to findings presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology conference, the incidence of shellfish allergy has grown by 7 percent, tree nuts by 18 percent, and peanuts by 21 percent. Shellfish and peanuts are also among the most common food allergies overall. The results are based on a survey of 53,575 U.S. adults.[/panel]

Because the study did not establish a causal relationship, but merely a correlation, parents should take these findings with a grain of salt. That being said, sucking your baby’s pacifier to clean it might not necessarily lower the child’s risk of developing allergies. It could be that other factors are at work. For instance, the same parents might let their children play outside in the dirt more or may live in less sanitized households. Previously, research showed that people who live near livestock, those who avoid dishwashers, and even babies born through the microbe-filled vaginal canal (and not a C-section) are less likely to develop allergies. Children who grow up with pets also tend to have a lower allergy risk.

More research will have to be carried out in order to tease out the correlation between pacifiers and baby’s risk of developing allergies.

Sharing bacteria with your kids using their pacifier may reduce the children’s risk of allergies, asthma and eczema

Researchers in Sweden have shown that children whose moms and dads placed their childrens pacifiers in their own mouths, thus sharing some of their own bacteria with them, had a lower risk of allergies, asthma and eczema.

pacifier

Arguably, the sample size of the study is too small, and more research is needed in order to confirm these original findings, but the trend which they suggest is pretty clear.

“Western culture is becoming an increasingly sterile environment, but that might not be ideal for young children as their immune systems develop,” says John Lee, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Food Allergy Clinic. “Their bodies need to learn what to attack and what to ignore. But if they’re exposed to too few, or the wrong kinds of germs, it can hinder development, sometimes confusing the immune system into attacking nonthreatening entities like pollen or food, which is what causes allergies.”

Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen (but especially ladies) – keeping your babies in a bubble, isolated from the real world as much as possible is not a good thing. The odds are that in the long run, you will do more harm than good.

For the study, researchers followed 180 babies and their parents. They interviewed parents about their pacifier-cleaning practices (whether they used spit, tap or boiling water), and then they checked the childrens allergies at 18 and 36 months. Nearly half of all parents involved in the study admitted they used the occasional spit and clean of the pacifier, and kids whose parents did this were found to have a significantly lower chance of the above mentioned conditions. Blood tests also showed that children whose parents cleaned their pacifiers with spit had lower levels of a specific type of a particular immune cell that is usually linked to allergies.

While the community’s response to this study was generally positive, it was generally argued that the sample size is too small to draw any definite conclusions.

“This study was too small to draw any conclusive facts about allergy and the sharing of microbes,” says Lee. “But I joke with families that a little dirt may be good for their kids, and this study certainly wouldn’t contradict that.”

Among the critics, some have claimed that sharing this kind of oral bacteria with infants can lead to cavities, but Man Wai Ng, DDS, MPH, dentist in chief at Boston Children’s says it’s extremely doubtful:

“The reality is that saliva transfer is almost completely unavoidable, especially when babies get hugged and kissed a lot,” she says. “Since oral bacteria is just a part of life, parents should focus on what they can do: good brushing with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste, limiting exposures to sugary foods and drinks and visiting a dentist by age 1.”

Via Children’s Hospital Boston