Could Pacifier Sharing Be Beneficial?

Do you clean off your child’s pacifier by putting it in your mouth, or do you know people who do? I always thought that this practice was pretty gross. But now a recent study from Sweden has concluded that licking your child’s pacifier may actually be beneficial.

Parents' saliva = child's allergies lessen?

In short, the study found a significant decrease in the incidence of allergies, eczema, and asthma over the first few years of life among children whose parents had reported putting their children’s pacifiers in their own mouths periodically.

The researchers hypothesized that the exposure to their parent’s oral bacteria via the pacifier may have strengthened the child’s immune system. Your body’s immune system learns through exposures to different things what to attack versus what to ignore. Perhaps small, frequent exposures to substances in the parent’s saliva somehow taught the child’s immune system to be less sensitive to certain things that might otherwise have triggered an allergic reaction.

Not proved yet

A word of caution, however: This was a small study and, although it suggests that pacifier sharing may have a protective effect, it doesn’t prove it. The researchers also only followed the children until they turned 3. More research is needed.

This work, however, does go along with a study from a few years ago that suggested that exposure to farm animals in childhood might be protective against asthma and allergies.

Are we too sanitary?

So, in this age of hand sanitizers, sanitizing wipes, and antibacterial soaps (all of which I admit loving! But my kids do have allergies!), the study raises the question of whether putting our kids in a sanitized bubble may have some downsides.

Dentists also voiced concern over the results of this study. For years, pediatric dentists have warned that early exposure to a parent’s oral bacterial can increase the risk of early cavities in a child.

So, what to do? I guess if you are in a pinch and need to clean that pacifier, go for it—and you may or may not be bolstering your child’s immune system. But if you are sick or think you’re getting sick, then sharing is not advised for sure.

For now, this study raises some intriguing questions that I hope will be followed up with more research. Stay tuned…

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