Is it safe to lick my baby’s dummy?

Is it ok to lick your baby's dummy - or should you clean it in some other way? We report on a new study and get expert advice from Dr Philippa Kaye

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In a nutshell

There is some research which shows that the microbes in a mother’s mouth can be beneficial to her child, so potentially sucking your child’s dummy after it falls to the floor and then giving it to back to them could actually be protective against allergies.

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However you should NOT lick your baby’s dummy if you have a mouth infection or cold sores.

What’s the story about licking your baby’s dummy?

Recent research from Henry Ford Health System in Detroit looked at 128 new mums over a year and how they cleaned their baby’s dummy.

Of the 74 who used them, most washed their child’s dummy by hand, 41% put them in the dishwasher and 12% said they just licked their baby’s dummy to clean it.

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By the age of 10 months, through a series of blood tests, researchers found that the babies who’d had their dummies sucked by their mums to clean them had lower levels of an antibody called IgE in them: higher IgE levels typically indicate a higher risk of having allergies and allergic asthma.

Licking your baby’s dummy – what does the doctor say? 

A quick vote around the office and on Facebook revealed that lots of mums often just give their baby’s dummy a suck to clean them – especially if they’re out and there are no other handy options available.

So we decided to ask our favourite GP, Dr Philippa Kaye, what she thought. She told us that, put simply, we are all probably a bit too clean.

“And not just ourselves,” she adds, “but our houses and other environments as well – bleach and other cleaning products don’t distinguish between good and bad bacteria – they just wipe out the lot.”

The Hygiene Hypothesis

“There is a medical theory around allergies called the ‘hygiene hypothesis’. This states that as a child’s environment is too clean their immune systems are not exposed to various bacteria and other triggers, which seems to then be associated with higher rates of allergies,” Dr Philippa adds.

“Basically, the more your immune system has to work, the better it is and exposure to good bacteria can also be helpful.

“We aren’t saying dip the dummy in the dirt and then let your baby suck on it, but there is some research, as we’ve mentioned, which shows that the microbes in a mother’s mouth can be beneficial to her child.

“So, potentially sucking your child’s dummy after it falls to the floor and then giving it to them to suck could actually be protective against allergies.”

As well as the recent study, a 2013 study in Sweden showed that the children of mothers who sucked their kids’ dummies were 3 times less likely to develop eczema.

When you SHOULDN’T lick your child’s dummy

“If you have a cold sore or other mouth infection please do not do this, or even kiss your child,” Dr Philippa advises.

“And please do clean the dummies properly as well, just perhaps a smidge less worry about letting your child be a bit dirty and the odd occasion where the only option is to put the dummy in your mouth to clean it.”

Images: Getty Images

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