Lick the pacifier, prevent asthma?

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Those wacky, wacky Swedes. They’ve given us the Fyrkantig candle at Ikea. And the word “nomofob.” And now, a study of babies whose parents sucked pacifiers. Not their own, parental pacifiers—their babys’ pacifiers.

Researchers in Sweden published a study in the May, 2013 issue of Pediatrics. They  looked at a group of 184 babies, interviewing the parents about their pacifier cleaning techniques. At six months, there were 65 parents who were “suckers”—these are the ones who reported that they routinely cleaned their child’s pacifier in their own mouths. The rest of the families said that they used other kinds of cleaning techniques. Maybe they used a stranger’s mouth. Frankly, I don’t want to know.

Anyway: at 18 months and again 36 months of life, the babies were examined for findings of allergic disease. The researchers reported that at 18 months, “sucking” was associated with less asthma and less eczema; at 36 months, only eczema still seemed to show any difference in the two groups.

It’s an interesting study, but I don’t think it’s very conclusive. It’s interesting that the asthma “protection” seemed to disappear at three years (I wonder if the eczema “protection” waned later.) And the overall protective effects weren’t particularly large. In nerd-statistics language, the confidence intervals almost overlapped odds or hazard ratios of 1.

Also, studies like these don’t show that the intervention—parental pacifier sucking—was what caused less allergic disease. I imagine that these families who cleaned pacifiers in their mouths were otherwise somewhat less diligent about cleanliness. Perhaps that’s what accounts for the difference, not the pacifier habits themselves.

I also have some misgivings about suggesting that parents slurp away on their kids’ pacifiers. Many people carry bacteria in their mouths that contribute to tooth decay, and it would be unwise for those families to continually re-inoculate their babies. There are other mouth germs, too—strep, herpes, and who-knows-what-kind-of Swedish meatball germs (as featured in this documentary.)

I’m sure an occasional, in-a-hurry-and-just-want-it-clean-enough suck is harmless, but it really doesn’t make sense to go out of your way to put your child’s pacifier in your mouth. If you want one that badly, go buy your own.

Explore posts in the same categories: Guilt Free Parenting, In the news, Medical problems

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One Comment on “Lick the pacifier, prevent asthma?”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    Ew ew ew ew ew. When my kids pacifiers needed cleaning, it was usually because they spit them out on some grody floor in a public place. If there’s something on the paci that I don’t want in my kid’s mouth, why would I want it in mine??? This one needs another tag for “what were they thinking?” And once more, ewwwww.


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