A Henry Ford Health System study presented some surprising findings concerning cleaning pacifiers. They started with 128 mothers and asked them how they usually cleaned their baby’s pacifiers. The majority of moms said they used soap and water, fewer said they sterilized with steam or boiling water, and just 9 mothers said they sucked on the pacifier to clean it.
The researchers then studied Immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels in the children. IgE refers to antibodies produced by the immune system in response to a perceived threat. Children with allergies have higher levels of IgE. The IgE levels were taken at birth, 6 months, and 18 months. The researchers found that babies whose mothers sucked their pacifiers clean had significantly lower IgE levels, potentially indicating a reduced risk for asthma and allergies.
The study’s author, Elaine Abou-Jaoude, cautions against a hard and fast conclusion that sucking pacifiers clean will prevent children from developing allergies as further research is needed.
The microbes a child is exposed to early in life will affect their immune system development.
One might then deduce that a mother is transferring useful microbes to her baby by sucking the pacifier clean.
These recent findings are very similar to those published by a team of Swedish scientists in 2013. That study, using 184 infants, specifically set out to see if pacifier cleaning practices affected the risk of allergies in young children. The conclusion was that the children whose pacifiers were sucked clean were less likely to have asthma, eczema, and other allergies.
An article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in June 2013 further explained that we had seen a notable increase in childhood IgE levels in affluent countries in the 20th century. The exact cause has not been stated, but the suspicion is that our improvements in hygiene have actually contributed to the development of allergies. Infants that are not exposed to microbes are unable to develop immune tolerance to them and could therefore develop allergy symptoms when exposed in the future.
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My takeaway is to no longer feel guilty when I turn a blind eye to my toddler licking playground equipment or when I apply the 5 second rule to the granola bar she just dropped. Apparently, I’m helping her to develop immune tolerance. She can thank me later.