A new study in the scientific journal Paediatrics has found that babies of parents who suck on their pacifier to clean it are 3 times less likely to suffer from eczema and allergies at 1.5 years of age.
Babies were divided into three groups according to how their parents chose to clean their pacifier after it had fallen on the floor: tap water, sterilisation through boiling or sucking the dummy clean.
The babies were then followed over the next year and a half and monitored for respiratory infections, allergy development and eczema. The babies who were consistently given the pacifier sucked by their parents were found to have a threefold reduction in eczema development at 1.5 years, even after allowing for confounding factors such as a parental history of allergies.
It is unclear exactly how this worked. However, from a ‘hygiene hypothesis’ point of view, it is thought that allergies develop in children who are not exposed to a wide range of microbes when their immune system is developing.
In order to keep the baby safe in the womb and prevent miscarriages, the immune system of both mother and baby turns on what is called a Th2 switch. This effectively weakens the immune response of both mother and baby so the two can co-exist throughout the pregnancy without rejecting each other.
The downside of Th2 dominance is that it is the part of the immune system which also triggers allergies and auto-immunity. Babies are born with immature immune systems which are biased toward a Th2 immune response.
It is thought that Th2 becomes down-regulated in favour of Th1 (protective of allergy) once the baby becomes exposed to a wide array of bacteria and viruses in infancy.
Antibiotic use both in the mother and baby, chlorinated water, lack of beneficial flora through fermented vegetables or probiotic supplementation and use of antibacterial soap as well as sterilisation of every item the baby puts in his mouth are very possibly at the root of the allergy epidemic that is sweeping through young children today.