Licking Your Baby’s Pacifier Could Help Prevent Infant Allergies

Baby sucking on a pacifier.
Giulio_Fornasar / Shutterstock

Becoming a parent seems to stifle the gross-out reflex in many parents — as mothers and fathers get used to sticky fingers, half chewed lollies, and dirt that little ones pick up from who knows where. And that’s without even thinking about the contents of their daily diapers.

This aversion to spotless decorum may actually be a good thing, as recent studies have found that babies whose mothers suck their pacifiers to clean them seem to be much less likely to develop allergies, according to Today.

Dr. Eliane Abou-Jaoude, an allergy and immunology fellow at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit — and lead author of the new study — explained the findings.

“The microbes that a child is exposed to in infancy can affect the way their immune system develops.”

In this particular case, the microbes inside the mother’s mouth help to develop a stronger immune system in babies.

Abou-Jaoude and her colleagues studied 128 mothers and their infants for 18 months after the babies’ births, and made sure to periodically note how the mothers were cleaning their child’s pacifier. Only 74 babies in the study ended up regularly using a pacifier, and it turns out that the vast majority of mothers were washing the pacifier by hand in between uses. Some mothers even went as far as sterilizing them.

Just 12 percent of the mothers followed said that they simply stuck the pacifier in their own mouths to clean it before giving it back to their babies.

Blood tests later confirmed that these little ones had lower levels of an antibody called IgE by the age of just 10 months. The higher the level of this antibody, the more likely a person is to develop allergies, asthma, and eczema.

As Abou-Jaoude clarified, this is not concrete evidence that sucking on a baby’s dummy will prevent them from developing allergies.

“This was not a cause-effect study. We can’t say these children won’t develop allergies later on. We only have IgE levels until 18 months of age.”

Some of the children already ran a higher risk of developing allergies, with family history also playing an important role in this particular avenue. Approximately 18 percent of the mothers in the study suffered from asthma, and around eight percent suffered from eczema. Researchers plan to continue to follow-up with all of the mothers in the coming years, to learn whether any of the children who showed early signs of immunity do develop allergies at a later stage.

However, the research is promising — even with just 18 months worth of data — and seems to corroborate previous studies about the effects of certain bacteria on babies. A study conducted in Sweden in 2013 also found that babies whose mothers cleaned their dummies with a simple lick had better immune systems, and just last year another study found that babies are exposed to good bacteria through their mother’s breast milk.