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Sucking on Your Baby's Pacifier Might Actually Be Good for Them

Photograph by Twenty20

Many parents share one common shame-filled secret. No, it's not that they secretly enjoy Kidz Bop in their alone time; it's that they've totally sucked on their kid's pacifier to clean it off after it fell on the floor. Maybe they didn't do it with their first kid, because many first-time parents are more likely to hold a ceremonial burning for contaminated baby gear than they are to allow their child near germs. But for the second kid? Third? Fourth? It happens. And now you don't even need to feel shame about it, because science says it's actually kind of healthy for your kid.

A study by Dr. Eliane Abou-Jaoude, an allergy fellow with Detroit's Henry Ford Health System, found that sucking a kid's pacifier prevents allergies.

The research found that babies who sucked on a pacifier with traces of their mom's saliva actually had lower levels of IgE antibody, a common allergy-causing protein in the body, all thanks to the microbes in their mom's spit.

“The idea is that the microbes you’re exposed to in infancy can affect your immune system’s development later on in life," Dr. Abou-Jaoude told CNN.

The research found that babies who sucked on a pacifier with traces of their mom's saliva actually had lower levels of a common allergy-causing protein in the body.

The findings were based on 74 infants whose moms reported using pacifiers—no dads were included.

The researchers tracked the babies for 18 months and noted that changes in some babies' levels of IgE antibody started when they were around 10 months old. Of course, the study does have limitations.

Since they only tracked the babies for 18 months, they have no way of knowing if their antibody levels continue to be lower into early childhood and beyond. And, of the 74 babies involved in the study, only nine of them had moms who actually sucked on their pacifiers, so the sample size is very small. That's why, despite some optimism about the research, CNN says Dr. Abou-Jaoude "isn't recommending that parents start sucking on their children's pacifiers just yet."

Still, the findings support theories that many researchers and doctors have about the benefits of babies being exposed to microbes.

Other studies have suggested that babies are healthier when exposed to vaginal microbes during the birthing process, that exposure to disinfectants can have negative effects on kids' health and that kids are healthier in homes where they're exposed to germs from pets. And researchers believe the reason behind all of these results is that microbes stimulate babies' immune systems and help them develop tolerances to things, instead of allergies. A 2013 study in Sweden also studied the effects of parents sucking on pacifiers and found that it even resulted in fewer cases of babies with asthma and eczema.

"What's very, very important to realize is that this was not a cause-and-effect study," Dr. Abou-Jaoude told CNN.

In other words, if you don't usually suck on your baby's pacifier, you don't need to start. But the emerging theories about microbes and allergy prevention are enough to suggest that, at the very least, it's OK for parents to feel less guilty about our occasionally less-than-sterile habits or not encasing our children in sanitized plastic bubbles. And, for most of us, that's a good thing.

This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.

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