Mums should suck their baby’s dummy clean when it falls on the floor – because it could help lower their child’s risk of getting asthma or eczema.
So say British experts from Cambridge University and who told the Cheltenham Science Festival that being too clean can kill the beneficial bacteria that keep the immune system strong, and so heighten the risk of developing these kind of allergies.
“If parents pick up the dummy right away and sterilise it or replace it with a new, clean one, that child has a considerably greater chance of having eczema and asthma,” said Professor Graham Rook of University College London. “But, if you’re the sort of parent that sucks it clean and sticks it back in the baby’s mouth, then it actually protects them from allergic disorders.
“It’s because your baby has better bacterial development in the mouth and gut. And this is what protects him or her. We need micro-organisms from our family and the natural environment.”
Prof Rook and his colleague, Dr Mark Veldhoen of Cambridge University, also advise parents to get a dog, let children eat food that has fallen on the floor, take walks in the countryside and visit farms and the park.
These simple lifestyle changes, they say, could help rebalance children’s immune systems.
“Keeping a dog is definitely protective against having an allergic disorder,” said Professor Rook. “They bring more microbiotic diversity into the home. Even families who don’t normally cuddle each other all cuddle the dog. Exposure to farms and pigs and cows are good. Exercise in the park and not in the gym.”
It’s no coincidence, the scientists say, that people from older generations have fewer allergies – because they were exposed to more microbes as children.
“Are we too clean? I would say yes,” added Dr Veldhoen. “It has been shown that frailty of health is linked to a decrease in bacteria.”