Parents may help prevent allergies in children by sucking on their pacifiers


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Vitals_ParentHandsChildPacifierYou read the headline correctly. It sounds bizarre, but Swedish researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, found that children whose parents cleaned their pacifiers by sucking on them were less likely to suffer from eczema and asthma at 18 months of age.

The study, published in this week’s issue of Pediatrics, involved 184 children whom researchers followed from birth. While many of the children’s parents cleaned pacifiers by rinsing them under tap water or boiling them, some instead put them in their mouths and sucked on them before giving them back to the infants. Children whose parents used this method were 88% less likely to have asthma, 63% less likely to have eczema and also less likely to be affected by food allergens at the age of 1.5 years.

These results remained significant even after researchers controlled for variables like whether or not the parents had allergies and if the children were delivered by C-section.

The bacterial flora in the mouth of the children whose parents sucked on the pacifiers was tested and found to be different than the composition of bacterial flora in the mouths of the other children. This supported researchers’ hypothesis that harmless bacteria from the parents’ mouths were being transported to the children’s mouths when both sucked on the pacifier.

This study reinforces the hygiene hypothesis, which states that the human immune system evolved two types of biological defenses. According to PBS’ “Evolution,” “when one defensive system lacks practice fighting bacteria and viruses, perhaps from an overly sanitary lifestyle, the other system becomes too powerful and overreacts — as an allergic reaction — to harmless substances like pollen.”

In other words, a dirtier environment, in some cases, might actually benefit children’s health by exposing them to bacteria and essentially giving their immune systems the opportunity to learn how to react to it.