Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let Them Eat Dirt-Germs Are Good For Babies

When our infant swallowed a blade of grass we panicked, wondering if she would have long-term health consequences, but by the time her friend Jonah was walking around playgroup with a dusty cockroach hanging out of his mouth we were a bit savvier and more relaxed about the things kids will explore with their mouths. It was disgusting, sure. But it wasn't going to kill him.

In fact, those dust bunnies and all the other dirt that children are exposed to may just be good for them. According to an article by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times, there are evolutionary reasons that children put dirt and bugs and grime and germs in their mouth.

Brody writes:
"Since all instinctive behaviors have an evolutionary advantage or they would not have been retained for millions of years, chances are that this one too has helped us survive as a species. And, indeed, accumulating evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you."
It is increasingly thought that exposure to germs helps stimulate the immune system and ward off auto-immune diseases like asthma, allergies, MS, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

What does this mean for parents with new babies?

1) Let your kids play in the dirt.

2) Don't have a panic attack if they play with their own poop or put dirty wrappers in their mouths.

3) Don't buy any of the conventional antibacterial soaps (here's what the article says about that: ”Dr. Ruebush [author of a book called "Why Dirt is Good"] deplores the current fetish for the hundreds of antibacterial products that convey a false sense of security and may actually foster the development of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. Plain soap and water are all that are needed to become clean, she noted.")

4) Skip the chlorine bleach (you can wash poopy cloth diapers on warm or even cold with biodegradable detergent and they will come out perfectly clean, especially if you are breastfeeding).

5) Don't bathe your baby every day. They only need a bath once a week, and a bit of spot cleaning with soap and warm water in between.

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