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By Erica Edwards
The latest research on allergy prevention in children will either reassure parents or completely gross them out.
Finding: sucking on your baby pacifier to clean it may be little Olivia or Milo will be less likely to develop allergies.
"The bacteria that a child is exposed to in infancy can affect the way their immune system develops," said Dr. Eliane Abu-Gouda, an allergy and immunologist at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, leading the new study. Helpful bacteria can come from the mouth of a mother.
Abu Odeh and his colleagues followed 128 new mothers for a year and a half after the birth and asked them from time to time how they cleaned their baby suckers.
Of the 74 babies who used them, most washed them by hand; 41 percent took it a step further by sterilizing the instruments. But just 12 percent simply poppedy into their mouths to clear them.
Through a series of blood tests, the researchers found that these infants had lower levels of IgE antibodies up to the age of 10 months. People who have higher IgE levels are generally more prone to allergies, asthma and eczema.
Some of the children in the study were already at higher risk because of family history. About 18% of mothers had asthma, and about 8% had eczema.
The study does not prove that sucking on the pacifier of the child will prevent allergies. "It was not a cause-and-effect study," said Abu-Gouda. "We can not say these children will not develop allergies later, we only have IgE levels up to the age of 18 months."
The research team plans to follow up with families in the next few years to see if one of the children is eventually diagnosed with an allergy. The present study will be presented at a meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Not all germs are bad
The findings suggest that exposure to mother's bacteria in early infancy can be a very good thing. During childbirth, babies are exposed to important bacteria when they are transported through the birth canal. A study conducted last year found mothers transmit healthy bacteria to their babies using breast milk. A Swedish study conducted in 2013 found babies whose parents sucked on their products to clean them had a three times lower risk of eczema until they were toddlers.
But this does not mean that parents should start to actively expose their babies to their rock – or someone else's.
"Rock is a very versatile tool," said Whasun "Sun" Ho Chung, a professor of research at the University of Washington School of Medicine. It examines how the body distinguishes between good bacteria and bad bacteria. She notes that saliva can also transport potentially dangerous microbes to bacteria causing. "We do not have enough data to see if the benefits of this practice outweigh the damage," she said.
Abu Odeh agrees. "We do not tell parents to clean their child's sucker by sucking on a pacifier." Bad bacteria can be passed on by a sucking parent to a sucker and then give it to their child, exposing them to other infections.
However, experts say such studies show that most children do not need to grow in a highly hygienic environment.
"A variety of bacteria in your body, mouth, and skin is good, especially for a baby whose immune system is developing," said Dr. Wendy Sue Sanson, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital in Seattle.
"Let them play in the dirt," she said. "Bring them food early in life, and allow them to explore the world in certain ways as before."