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By Erika Edwards
The latest research on the prevention of allergies in children will reassure parents or absorb them completely.
The discovery: sucking your baby's pacifier to clean can mean that little Olivia or Milo will be less likely to develop allergies.
"The microbes that a child is exposed in childhood can affect the way the immune system develops," Dr. Eliane Abou-Jaoude, an allergy and immunology at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and the lead author of the new study. In this case, it seems that beneficial microbes can come from the mother's mouth.
Abou-Jaoude and colleagues followed 128 new mothers for a year and a half after giving birth, periodically asking them how to clean their baby's pacifiers.
Of the 74 whose babies used one, most werehed them by hand; 41 percent took a step further by sterilizing devices. But 12 percent just opened the binky in their own hands to clear them.
Through a series of blood tests, researchers found that infants had lower levels of an antibody called IgE when they were 10 months old. People with higher IgE levels are more likely to be allergic, asthma and eczema.
Some of the children in the study were already at greater risk because of a family history. About 18 percent of mothers had asthma and about 8 percent had an eczema.
The research does not show the suction of the pacifier of a child that will prevent allergies. "This was not a cause-effect study," said Abou-Jaoude. "We can not say that these children will not develop allergies later. We only have IgE levels until 18 months of age."
The research team plans to follow families in the coming years to see if any of the children has just been diagnosed with allergy. Current research will be presented at a meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Not all bacteria are bad
The discoveries increase the evidence that exposure to mother's bacteria in early childhood can be a very good thing. During delivery, babies are exposed to important bacteria when administered through the birth canal. A study last year found that moms transmitted healthy bacteria to their babies through breast milk. And a Swedish study of 2013 found babies whose parents sucked pacifiers to clean them were three times less likely to have eczema at the time they were small.
But this does not mean that parents should begin to actively expose their babies to saliva: their own or the others.
"Saliva is a very versatile tool," said Whasun "Sun" Oh Chung, a professor of research at the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Washington. She studies how the body distinguishes good bacteria from bad bacteria. She notes that saliva can also transmit potentially dangerous germs and bacteria that cause cavities. "We do not have enough data to see if the benefits (of this practice) outweigh the losses," he said.
Abou-Jaoude agrees. "We're not telling parents to clean their children's pacifiers by removing the pacifier. Bad bacteria can be transferred by a father who sucks in the pacifier and then gives it to his son, exposing them to other infections."
Even so, experts say that this type of research shows that most young people do not need to be raised in an extremely hygienic environment.
"The diversity of bacteria in your body, in your mouth and in your skin is likely to be good, especially in a baby whose immune system is developing," said Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at the Seattle Children's Hospital.
"Let them play on the ground," he said. "Introduce food for them at the beginning of life, and allow them to explore the world in some way as we used."