Picture this: you're on a walk with your baby when all of a sudden their soother slips from their mouth and tumbles to the ground. You scoop it up, clean it off by popping it quickly into your own mouth, and hand it back. Problem solved, right?
We've all done it. But as it turns out, this "cleaning" method for the soother may be doing more for your baby than just getting a few specks of dirt off of the surface. A new study recently found that babies whose parents sucked on their pacifier to clean it had a lower level of the antibody that is linked to the development of allergies and asthma.
According to Dr. Eliane Abou-Jaoude, M.D., an allergist fellow and the study's lead author, children whose pacifiers were cleaned this way by their parents had lower IgE levels around 10 months of age through 18 months of age. Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, is linked to the development of allergies and asthma. Researchers believe that by using their own saliva to clean pacifiers, parents pass on healthy oral bacteria that affects the early development of their child's immune system.
"Although we can't say there's a cause and effect relationship, we can say the microbes a child is exposed to early on in life will affect their immune system development," said Dr. Abou-Jaoude.
The study, which was conducted by The Henry Ford Health System, asked 128 mothers about how they cleaned their baby's pacifier. The choices were 1) sterilizing it in boiling water or the dishwasher, 2) cleaning it with soap and water, and 3) sucking on it. A total of 30 mothers said they sterilized it, 53 cleaned it with soap and water, and only nine admitted that they sucked on it.
As it turns out, researchers found that those nine children had "significantly lower" IgE levels at 18 months, compared with the other two categories. They compared the babies' IgE levels at birth, six months and 18 months for each cleaning method.
While it seems tempting to conclude that by sucking on your baby's pacifier, you will lower their risk of eventually developing allergies down the road, Dr. Abou-Jaoude cautions parents from leaning too hard on this assumption. She believes more research is required to examine the correlation.
This latest study's findings have been shown to be compatible with those from a 2013 Swedish study, which reported a nearly identical association.