Soothing And Unsanitary: Bacteria Found On Pacifiers Can Lead To Asthma, Depression

Megan Greenlaw - Author

Mar. 24 2014, Updated 7:11 p.m. ET

While this probably isn’t breaking news to most parents, your child’s pacifier is teeming with germs — and a lot of them. But what may come as news to you is the level of germs found on used pacifiers, and how they could effect your baby. A recent study shows that pacifiers coated with bacteria can be contaminated with harmful germs ranging from staph to pneumonia to mold. Gross.

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The research, presented at the 2012 American Society for Clinical Pathology, compared collected used pacifiers and compared them to new pacifiers. Ten used binkies were collected from healthy infants at a pediatric clinic (hopefully their Moms brought along a spare). Researchers “minced the nipples and shields,” stuck them in a lab dish and watched lots of little things grow. After 24-48 hours of culture growth, researchers observed 40 different types of bacteria from the 10 binkies.

The most contaminated pacifier contained four different strains of staph.

A contaminated pacifier grows a biofilm, according to the study. This biofilm is a “slimy coating of bacteria” that, when inserted into an infant’s mouth, changes the normal microbe balance in the mouth. The biofilm, researchers added, is particularly resistant to antibiotics.

Contaminated pacifiers can lead to a risk of colic and ear infections. Some forms of bacteria found on contaminated binkies have even been linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. There is also evidence that the interaction between pacifier germs and the immune system cal lead to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.

Up to 85 percent of infants use pacifiers.

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“Research shows pacifiers have their benefits, such as soothing infants and even protecting against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but they’re easily contaminated and parents need to do a better job of keeping them clean,” said Jay Bullard, MS,manager of the Microbial Forensics Research Laboratory at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. “No one wants to eat with a dirty spoon in a nice restaurant, but parents often think nothing of picking a pacifier up off the floor at a mall and putting it back in an infant’s mouth.” (Go ahead, parents, hang your heads in shame. I know I am.)

William J. Becker, medical director at Quest Diagnostics in Lexena, KS, noted, “This study shows unclean pacifiers expose infants to a wide variety of microbes, and we’re at the early stages of learning the many and varied ways those germs can be harmful. But there’s an easy solution here – parents need to take a few simple steps to keep those pacifiers clean.”

When a pacifier is dropped, it should be cleaned. Period. No matter where it lands. Bullard suggests washing the offending binky with dish soap and cold water and letting it air dry. Pacifiers can also be soaked in a baking soda solution: One teaspoon of baking soda to eight ounces of water.

Bullard suggests that parents keep several clean pacifiers on hand, stored in a clean baggie. If a pacifier falls out and there are no clean ones available, “wiping it off with a tissue is better than nothing, as it prevents biofilm build up and removes some of the germs,” Bullard said.

Pacifiers, according to these experts, should be cleaned daily, and discarded every two weeks.


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