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Let Your Baby Eat Dirt

It's important for babies to be in contact with dirt, early and often.

Spring has officially arrived, and here in the Midwest, everyone is out enjoying these first days of sunshine. My toddler points at the door all morning, begging to go play outside. Now that she's experienced the grass between her chubby little toes, she can't get enough.

We were chatting across the fence with a neighbor when I noticed our little one had wandered over to our garden, which of course right now is nothing more than a dirt patch. She was squishing the black soil between her fingers, watching it fall back to the ground. She ran across a big hunk of dirt and, because it's what toddlers do, she promptly started chewing on it. Even though I know the facts about babies and dirt, I still get all panicky when I see her little cherub face smeared with topsoil. She looks to me and sticks out a tongue dotted with mud. I am at once disgusted and delighted because, when done right, ingesting dirt has its benefits.

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According to the hygiene hypothesis, our obsession with cleanliness, especially around babies, could be to blame for the surge in all manner of allergies in recent years. The idea is that, in the absence of new bacteria and germs to fight, our bodies' immune systems essentially get bored and begin fighting the most benign intruders. Pet dander and pollen, for example. Dirt provides a valuable medium through which a baby's immune system is introduced to lots of stuff, and gets busy deciding what is a real threat, and what isn't. Your baby's body will learn that dirt and its contents aren't worth calling in the troops over.

So by all means, let your baby play in, and yes, even eat dirt.

Research has shown that "clay in the intestines can act as a barrier, stopping the entrance of viruses and bacteria. It has also been shown that it can help increase nutrient absorption, which is important during early pregnancy and the childhood years for growth."

Another study showed that babies under age one who were exposed to far nastier stuff than just dirt (rodent and pet dander, roach allergens and other bacteria) had a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies.

So by all means, let your baby play in, and yes, even eat dirt. However, use common sense: If you treat your grass or garden with pesticides or other chemicals, you certainly don't want your little one ingesting that.

RELATED: 10 Signs of Childhood Allergies

Image via Sarah Kovac

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