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Go suck on a pacifier? Adults' mouth bacteria may help babies

May 06, 2013|By Deborah Netburn
  • A bright-eyed baby sucks on a pacifier. New research suggests that parents can help their infants by sucking on the pacifier themselves to clean it.
A bright-eyed baby sucks on a pacifier. New research suggests that parents… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Forget boiling, or antiseptic wipes: The best way to clean a Binky may be putting it in your own mouth.

A parent who sucks on a baby's pacifier to clean it is loading it up with hundreds of good types of bacteria that live in the adult mouth. That bacteria is transferred via the pacifier to the infant's mouth.

It may sound gross, but evidence suggests that those bacteria may help reduce instances of allergy development in babies.

In a new study published in Pediatrics, researchers followed 184 infants recruited from a Swedish hospital from birth until most of them were 3 years old. The researchers were specifically looking for allergy-prone babies, and 80% of the sample group had at least one parent with allergies.

In the first six months of the babies' life, 74% of them used a pacifier. Almost all the parents of pacifier-sucking babies said they used tap water to clean the pacifier. Half of the parents said they also boiled them, and another half said they popped dirty pacifiers in their own mouth before handing them back to baby.

At an 18-month check-up, the researchers found that the babies whose parents sucked their pacifiers to clean them were 63% less likely to have eczema and 88% less likely to have asthma compared to those whose parents did not clean their pacifiers that way.

And those babies whose parents were diligently boiling their baby's pacifiers to clean them? They were more likely to develop asthma than the other babies.

At a 36-month checkup, parental pacifier sucking no longer had an impact on whether a baby would develop asthma, but the babies whose parents sucked their pacifiers to clean them were still 49% less likely to have eczema.

The researchers also checked to see if the babies whose parents sucked on their pacifiers were more likely to get a cold or cough from their parents. The answer was no.

The researchers, led by Dr. Bill Hesselmar from Queen Silvia Children's Hospital in Gothenberg, concede that their study group is small, and conclude that more studies need to be done before they can say definitively that sucking a baby's pacifier is an easy and safe way to reduce allergy development in babies.

Personally, I'd like to see someone analyze the benefits of the good old "wiping a Binky on the side of your jeans" method of cleaning it. I'm not so interested in sticking dirty pacifiers in my mouth, but if it would help my baby get the bacteria he needs, I guess it's worth it.

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