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Want Babies Without Allergies? Try This

Study suggests transferring adult bacteria to infants' mouths through saliva may train immune system to ignore allergens

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Ferdman, who was not associated with the research, urged caution in interpreting the results of the study. "It's a small number of babies studied, so it's hard to generalize," he said.

He also expressed concern that results may not be widely applicable because the data were taken solely from Swedish participants, who are not a genetically diverse population.

Other researchers have expressed concern about dirty pacifiers.

Dr. Tom Glass, a professor of forensic sciences, pathology and dental medicine at Oklahoma State University, presented research at the American Society for Clinical Pathology in Boston last November that found a wide range of disease-causing bacteria, fungus and mold on children's pacifiers. They also found that pacifiers can grow a slimy coating of bacteria called a biofilm that alters the normal bacteria in the children's mouths, spurring inflammation and potentially increasing the risk of developing gastrointestinal problems or even ear infections.

The value of using a parent's saliva to clean a dirty pacifier has been known for some time, Glass said. "We have for a long time advocated that if you're at the Walmart and the baby drops the pacifier, you're better off putting the pacifier in your mouth [to clean it] because you have immunoglobulin components that fight bacteria in your saliva."

Glass expressed concern that the researchers did not identify the specific microbes transferred from parents to the pacifiers. "We don't know what the parents are actually transmitting to the child," he said.

What should parents do to help prevent allergies in their children? "Babies need to be exposed to the world, and exposure to the normal microbial environment is protective," Ferdman said. "Breast-feed for at least four to six weeks if you can. Don't smoke, and don't expose your children to secondhand smoke."

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