You know that the whole purpose of vaccinations is to trigger a child’s immune system to generate antibodies to prevent future disease. But dirt and allergens serve the same purpose of building immunity against danger.
This means that the home that’s too clean helps the germs!
A study conducted at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center found that infants exposed to all sorts of icky stuff in the first year of life – pet dander, household bacteria, and even rodent and roach allergens – were actually less likely to later suffer from allergies and asthma than were babies raised in pristine households.
While previous studies have found that inner city kids, exposed to rodents and roaches, have higher levels of The Johns Hopkins study found this surprising bit: exposure to dirty and nastiness in the first year of life is key, no matter when children live. Early exposure actually has a protective effect that is missing if children are first exposed to various bacteria later in childhood.
For example, researchers found that children raised in homes with evident mouse and cat dander and cockroach droppings in the first year of life had lower rates of wheezing at age 3, compared with children not exposed to these allergens soon after birth. Not only that but exposure to all three of these allergens (cat dander, mouse dander, and roach droppings) had the fewest respiratory symptoms of all. In addition, children who grew up in homes with a variety of bacteria were less likely to develop environmental allergies and wheezing at age 3.
Over 40 percent of children who were allergy-free and wheeze-free at age three had grown up in homes rich in a variety of germs. Only 8 percent of three-year-olds with respiratory symptoms had been exposed to household germs in infancy. Children who had no respiratory symptoms at all at age three had grown up in homes with the very highest levels of animal debris and the richest array of bacteria.
What does this mean for you?
- First, give up trying to keep everything sanitary for baby. Not only will you wear yourself out but you will actually not succeed in keeping your child healthy.
- Second, if you have pets, keep them. Yes, pets are dirty but the presence of pets in your home protects your baby from becoming allergic later.
- Third, while you of course will protect your child from food-borne bacteria like salmonella and bacteria like e.coli that are spread through poor diapering and hygiene practices, there’s no need to obsess over keeping clean. Babies get dirty. Let them.
The bottom line is that having a baby doesn’t need to change your usual, half-way decent household duties. Not-so-good is actually good enough, even when there’s an infant around. In fact, it’s good enough especially when there’s an infant around!
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.