Many of us have gone through the nesting phase in our pregnancy, where we clean top to bottom, removing every little bit of dirt or germs that may come into contact with our precious newborns, but is it to the detriment of our children’s future health?
Research is now being done to discover if today’s children are experiencing too little contact with germs and bacteria that cause infection, but also help children build a strong immune system.
And whilst newborns get a free ride from the antibodies they inherit from their mother’s, this protection provided by maternal antibodies is short-lived because, within a few months, babies must begin to build their own antibodies to strengthen up their future immunity.
In Australia, antibiotics (when required), clean homes, even indoor plumbing, all add up to fewer childhood infections.
Which of course, is an excellent thing.
But researchers are investigating if this limited exposure to germs has led to increases in certain autoimmune and allergic conditions.
And with Australians suffering from asthma more than almost any other people in the world (source: http://www.globalasthmareport.org/burden/burden.php) we have more reason than most to continue to investigate what effects our children’s immunity levels.
Experts say a toddler’s moderate exposure to germs helps to train their immune system to respond appropriately later in life, helping ensure that it doesn’t attack the body itself (such as autoimmune diseases) or greet an antigen by overreacting (causing allergies).
Here are some suggestions you might like to consider for your children.
Instead of hand sanitiser or antibacterial soap in the bathroom, you can use simple soap and warm water. This teaches them to still wash and clean themselves and not rely on hand sanitisers which are often not available at schools.
1. Let them play and interact with animals. From dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish to worms and other little critters (supervision is required).
2. Try not to sterilise all your surfaces in the home, let them be exposed to some level of germs. (Always check food services areas are clean of course).
3. Let them explore the natural world outside; playing in the soil, mud and grasses helps build their resistance to germs.
4. Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary with medical advice of course.
5. Let them play with other children to let them get some exposure to skin, sweat, dirt and germs.
6. Your child does not have to have a bath or shower every day; sometimes let them stay a little bit dirty, it reminds them of the fun they have had.
7. Let your child wear the same clothes more than once; this helps your child build immunity and you save on washing.
Whilst we certainly wouldn’t encourage you to let your toddler eat dirt on a daily basis or lapse on standard hygiene practices like hand washing, perhaps we could consider a slight reduction of the pressure to maintain a spotlessly clean and germ-free home.
For your children’s benefit of course.
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