Mothers may get funny looks for picking a baby’s dummy up off the dirty ground and popping it in their own mouth to clean it.
But germophobe parents who would rather sterilise their child’s pacifier or put it in the dishwasher may be raising their child’s risk of allergies.
Mothers who suck a dummy clean after it gets dirty have children with fewer antibodies linked to asthma, food and dust allergies, a study found.
That may be because parents transfer their own bacteria to their child’s mouth, helping to boost their immune system.
Germophobe parents who would rather sterilise their child’s pacifier or put it in the dishwasher may be raising their child’s risk of allergies
Researchers led by the Henry Ford Health System asked 128 mothers how they cleaned their children’s dummies before taking blood tests from the infants.
Lower levels of immunoglobin E (igE) antibodies were found in the children whose parents used their own mouths instead of tap water or sterilisation.
Lead author Dr Eliane Abou-Jaoude said: ‘We know that exposure to certain micro-organisms early in life stimulates development of the immune system and may protect against allergic diseases later.
‘Parental pacifier sucking may be an example of a way parents may transfer healthy micro-organisms to their young children.’
DO BABY WIPES CAUSE ALLERGIES?
Baby wipes increase children’s risk of developing life-threatening food allergies, research suggested in April 2018.
Immune reactions to everyday produce like nuts, eggs and soy may be brought on by a ‘perfect storm’ of baby wipes, dust and food exposure, a study found in a ‘major advance’.
Researchers believe this is due to an ingredient in soap found in baby wipes, known as sodium lauryl sulphate, lingering on infants’ skin and disrupting its protective fatty barrier.
In youngsters with genetic mutations that predispose them to allergies, this disruption could lead to immune reactions if they are, for instance, kissed by a sibling with peanut butter on their face, according to the US researchers.
The scientists recommend parents reduce their youngsters’ food allergy risk by washing their hands before touching them and rinsing off excess soap after baby wipe use.
Around one in 13 children in the US suffer from at least one food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research & Education.
Lead author Professor Joan Cook-Mills, from Northwestern University, said: ‘I thought about what are babies exposed to.
‘They are exposed to environmental allergens in dust in a home.
‘They may not be eating food allergens as a newborn, but they are getting them on their skin.
‘Say a sibling with peanut butter on her face kisses the baby. Or a parent is preparing food with peanuts and then handles the baby. ‘
Professor Cook-Mills then investigated skin studies that assessed the impact of soap, saying: ‘I thought “oh my gosh!’ That’s infant wipes!”‘
Among the 128 mothers interviewed for the study, around one in eight sucked their child’s dummy to clean it.
Slightly more than two in five chose to sterilise, boil or steam the pacifier, or to put it in the microwave or dishwasher.
The vast majority, 72 per cent, hand-washed their child’s dummy by rinsing it under a tap or using washing up liquid.
Researchers wanted to see if there was any difference in igE, which is triggered when children have allergic responses to triggers like milk, peanuts, dust mites or pollen.
Taking blood from babies at birth, six and 18 months old, they found significantly lower levels of these antibodies in 18-month-old children whose mothers sucked their pacifier. There was no difference between dummies sterilised or hand-washed.
The authors, whose study is being presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Seattle, suggest healthy mouth bacteria passed on from adults may be responsible.
This backs up the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ which suggests children should be exposed to bugs to reduce their risk of allergies.
Those brought up in the countryside tend to have lower rates of asthma, which is commonly triggered by allergies.
Dr Edward Zoratti, a co-author of the study from Henry Ford, said: ‘We found that parental pacifier sucking was linked to suppressed IgE levels beginning around 10 months, and continued through 18 months.
‘Further research is needed, but we believe the effect may be due to the transfer of health-promoting microbes from the parent’s mouth.
‘It is unclear whether the lower IgE production seen among these children continues into later years.’
Dr Abou-Jaoude said: ‘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.’