Being a parent, especially for the first time, can be scary and challenging at first, and parents are often bombarded with information. Yet, it can be difficult to determine what information will benefit the family and children’s well-being, and what is just being marketed for profit.
The scientist Jack Gilbert, who studies microbial ecosystems at the University of Chicago, adopted a more relaxed approach toward child-rearing when his second son was born.
He decided to investigate the science behind germs, and found that most germ exposure was actually beneficial.
Even though it is hard to suppress the urge to protect our children from anything that could hurt them, we can sometimes hinder their ability to develop a strong immune system, for instance, when we wipe their hands after playing outdoors, or keep them away from our pets.
Gilbert says that previously, children ate more fermented foods, rich in bacteria, and lived exposed to animals and plants and soil regularly, while nowadays, parents make sure their children live in sterile conditions, and this leads to a hyper-sensitized immune system.
The little body cells are known as neutrophils, when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, become grumpy and pro-inflammatory, and the moment they notice something foreign, even a piece of pollen they become explosively inflammatory, and trigger food allergies, asthma, and eczema.
Therefore, you will help to strengthen the immune system of your child if you let it play out in the dirt. Gilberts adds that it is much better to use hot or even warm soapy water for washing your child’s hands, than using a hand sanitizer.
He also debunks the “5 Second Rule” myth, claiming that the microbes need milliseconds to attach themselves to a sticky piece of toast, for instance, so your child is not at risk unless you have dropped it in an area rich in extremely dangerous pathogens.
Also, babies have a natural desire to play in the dirt and put dirty objects in their mouth. Apparently, this could have an important immune- developing purpose.
According to Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, when it puts things in the mouth, the child allows his immune response to explore his environment. She claims that this practice is also necessary for protection, and plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.
Gilberts even suggests licking the pacifier after the child has dropped it, instead of washing it. A study has found that the children of parents who licked the pacifier and put it back in developed fewer allergies, asthma, and eczema.
He also studied the immune profiles of Amish children to support his thesis, and the 2016 study discovered significantly lower rates of asthma in immune profiles of Amish children who lived on small farms that were “rich in microbes.”
The time spent outdoors offers numerous benefits to our physical and psychological well-being. One extremely beneficial practice, known as “Earthing,” or “grounding,” encourages walking barefoot in the grass, and it boosts health and promotes feelings of well-being.
Furthermore, the fragile skin of the baby can be damaged by over-washing, and it might become prone to infections and over-inflammatory reactions like eczema. Therefore, you can use a warm washcloth for children under the age of six months and infants up to about 18 months, as they can safely go a few days without bathing.
Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, maintains that the immune system at birth is like an unprogrammed computer, and needs instruction.
He agrees that public health measures like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of countless children, but at the same time, they eliminated exposure to many organisms that are beneficial for us. He added that children raised in an ultra-clean environment are not exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.
Prof. Gilbert also recommends a healthy diet, rich in colorful vegetables, more leafy vegetables, foods high in fiber, and low in sugar.
Therefore, despite all speculation and misinformation one can find on the Internet about the risks and benefits of germs, scientists now agree that the combined activity of all the tiny organisms inside our bodies and the surrounding environment have a dramatic effect on health and well-being, and encourage parents to let their children to freely experience the world.