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I grew up in the countryside in Ireland. I played outside in fields all day long with my friends and I was used to stepping over piles of cow manure. I build dams out of sticks in a little stream close to home and climbed massive trees. I was generally outside and covered in mud all day long.
I was exposed to massive amounts of dirt, germs, cows, horses, sheep, cats and dogs all day, every day. Maybe that´s why today´s culture of keeping children so clean is a little weird to me.
And then I found an article about a book called “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System“.
The author, Jack Gilbert, is a scientist who studies microbial ecosystems at the University of Chicago. After the birth of his second child, he decided to study the risks involved when children become exposed to dirt.
He found that over-sterilising children´s environment is actually doing more harm than good.
He suggests that it´s better to wash children´s hands with warm soapy water than to use a hand sanitiser, which is more harmful to children´s health.
Getting licked in the face by a dog can actually be beneficial for their health.
If you drop a piece of food on the ground? Yes, of course it will pick up germs from the floor right away. But it´s very unlikely that your house has the level of dangerous pathogens that will harm your child.
Do you wash a pacifier/soother/dummy when it falls on the ground or lick it? Lick it! When you introduce small amounts of germs from your own body, it stimulates the child´s immune system and they`ll become stronger because of it. A small study of 184 children whose parents licked the soother, found that those kids developed less allergies, less asthma and less eczema.
So why is dirt good for our kids? What happens when we over-sterilise our kid´s world and clean the life out of everything?
Here comes the science bit.
“Their immune systems then become hyper-sensitized. You have these little soldier cells in your body called neutrophils, and when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, they become grumpy and pro-inflammatory. And so when they finally see something that’s foreign, like a piece of pollen, they become explosively inflammatory. They go crazy. That’s what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies.”
As for the daily baths that are so normal in today´s society?
The American Academy of Dermatology, recommends that children between the ages of 6 & 11 need a bath just two or three times a week. And a baby who doesn´t walk, needs a sponge bath just once or twice a week.
Reassuring for me because when I told the other parents in the park one day that my kids had a daily wash but only had a bath twice a week, they looked at me like I was an alien.
Rob Dunn, professor of biology and author of The Wild Life of our Bodies, says that overly clean living can be bad for our immune systems. We need certain microbes and gut bacteria to function properly and to keep us healthy from the more dangerous pathogens.
Mix all of this with common sense. If your child is in a pool all day and covered in chlorine, then you need the wash it off of course. If you´re in the zoo all day, then you should wash their hands.
The overall message is that a little bit of dirt is actually good for your child.
Read the full article here: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/16/537075018/dirt-is-good-why-kids-need-exposure-to-germs