Let them eat dirt

Lots of people, when they become parents, become obssessed with keeping everything clean.  They worry constantly about dirt and germs.

They do whatever they can to clean and sanitize and sterilise everything in their baby’s world.

But is this really the best thing to do?

I’ve always felt that a little bit of dirt is good for children.  That they need to be exposed to germs and bacteria to be able to build an effective immune system.

let-the-kids-eat-dirt

To my mind, it’s like peanuts.

Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this!

When I was pregnant with Rhys, the general advice was still to avoid eating peanuts and peanut products.  It was thought that this would help prevent peanut allergies in the baby.

But, I wasn’t convinced that this was right.

My gut feeling on it was that, surely, it’s better to expose the baby to small amounts of things like peanuts.  To me it made more sense that a child would be more likely to react to something that they’d never been exposed to at all.

So I did some research and it turned out that, at the time, the UK was pretty much the only place in the world to advise women to avoid peanuts during pregnancy and yet we had one of the highest rates of peanut allergies.

Women in other countries were happily enjoying their peanut butter on toast every morning and, if anything, doing so seemed to reduce the chance of their baby having a nut allergy.

So I made a choice to keep eating my peanut butter too.  And not long after that the advice here changed to say that it was ok to do so.

Because exposing babies to allergens early on makes it more likely they’ll build up a tolerance to it, which makes it less likely they’ll develop an allergy to it.

And I think of dirt and germs in a similar way.

If we expose our babies to these things, then they’ll build up a tolerance to it.  Their immune systems will develop to be stronger and more resistant to bugs.

And a new book has been released that supports my beliefs.

Let them eat dirt‘ is a really fascinating book on the benefits of exposing our children to dirt and microbes.

let-them-eat-dirt-book

It was written by B. Brett Finlay, PHD and Marie-Claire Arrieta, PHD and is all about this idea that our current obsession with keeping things clean and sterile is potentially harmful to our children.

Which makes me feel better about the absolutely non-sterile state of my home!

I remember when Rhys was a baby, and I was still worrying about sterilising his bottles, and his dummy.  My husband made the excellent point that he was crawling round on his hands and knees all day, and then putting his fingers in his mouth.  And his toys were often on the floor, and then in his mouth.

And he seemed to be doing fine!

So I relaxed a bit after that point.

And kept in mind that any germs and bacteria he did pick up would most likely be doing good things to build up his immune system.

This whole idea of sterilising bottles is actually addressed in the book:

“The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends sterilizing bottles used for babies of any age.  If the water at home is safe enough to drink, it is also safe enough to use to clean bottle and nipples”

They also mention an interesting study that was conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.  The study found that children raised in homes that washed dishes by hand (rather than in a dishwasher) were less likely to develop ezcema by the time they reached school age.  Which suggests that “a less-efficient dishwashing method promotes more exposure to microbes early in life, which has been shown to protect children from allergies and asthma”.

And as for toys, the book’s authors suggest that they only need to be cleaned when they’re visibly dirty, or if they’ve been played with by a child that’s poorly.  And plain old soap and water will do too, no need to break out the dettol!

let-them-eat-dirt

So, if that’s the case with toys, which are more often than not left lying around on the floor, then is it ok to pick a dummy up off the floor and give it back to your baby?

You might judge me for this, but my response to a dropped dummy was always to just quickly pop it in my mouth to ‘clean’ it before giving it back.

But you often see parents grabbing a pack of wipes out of the changing bag to clean a dropped dummy.  Well, you can even buy little containers that keep them sterilised on the go!

According to ‘let them eat dirt’ though, my more relaxed approach might be for the best.

“A study by the Swedish research group suggests that the best way to clean a pacifier that has been dropped is to put it in your own mouth first.  They found that the sixty-five babies raised by parents that cleaned their pacifiers by mouth had a significantly lower risk of developing allergies at 18 and 36 months of age”

I honestly find this whole area of research fascinating.

A lot of the studies need to be replicated on a larger scale, but the findings definitely point towards it being a good thing for our babies and children to be exposed to microbes and bacteria.

So maybe we all need to relax a little bit.

Obviously we need to use some common sense and do what we can to stop diseases from spreading, and to be wary of germs from food that’s past its best.  And the authors aren’t saying we should actually be encouraging our children to eat dirt.

But maybe we need to cut down on the constant disinfecting and sterilising.  

I’m not saying we should live in a complete mess.  I think we all feel better when our homes are clean and tidy.  But, lets not get carried away!  Our homes don’t need to be sterile.  We don’t need to get rid of every last germ and microbe.

What we need to do is let our children be children.

Let them go out and play in the mud.

Let them explore the world around them.

Let them come home covered in dirt and grass stains, with grubby faces and mud under their fingernails.

I’ll leave you with a great final quote from the book:

 “Let your kid be a kid and interact with their world, and develop as kids have for the past million years.  Let them eat dirt!”

 

I was given a copy of ‘let them eat dirt’ to review, but all words and opinions are my own apart from those indicated by quote marks.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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22 Comments

  1. Mammy 04/11/2016 / 4:28 pm

    What a great blog, Madeline. There are so many adverts on television telling mums they need to disinfect everything. Rubbish! You three have all grown up healthy despite my slapdash approach to housework.

  2. Lux G. 05/11/2016 / 1:38 pm

    Yes. I totally agree. Let them experience life on their own because when we keep on stopping them, it somehow gets in their head. When they become adults, somehow there’s this invisible force hindering them from getting what they want.

  3. Fran @ Whinge Whinge Wine 05/11/2016 / 10:26 pm

    I never clean nor sterilised anything. My kids are constantly filthy. I should probably get a copy of this book to leave around the house so people who come over see it and think I’m doing it on purpose rather than out of pure laziness. #KCACOLS

    • This glorious life 09/11/2016 / 9:35 pm

      Haha, love this comment Fran! x

  4. Sara 06/11/2016 / 3:32 pm

    Totally agree with you, and it IS like peanuts!!! To be fair, with my first we were all about ‘everything has to be clean’ and worried about germs. You then realise that children are more resilient that we think they are, so of course, keep things clean to an extent, but obsessing doesn’t do anyone any good! Great post! #KCACOLS

    • This glorious life 09/11/2016 / 9:34 pm

      Haha, thank you for backing me up on the peanut front! And I think most first time parents are the same, then you do tend to relax a bit with the second! x

  5. Sharon Parry 06/11/2016 / 4:21 pm

    I think a balance is needed. We all know licking your fingers just after you have handled an animal at a farm is a very bad idea but this obsession with cleanliness inside a home is necessary. Really interesting post. #KCACOLS

    • This glorious life 09/11/2016 / 9:33 pm

      Yes that’s it exactly, we need to find a good middle ground! x

  6. Sharon Parry 06/11/2016 / 4:25 pm

    oh gosh I meant *unnecessary* sorry – hit submit too soon!!

  7. jeremy@thirstydaddy 06/11/2016 / 4:32 pm

    My wife and I both work at a hospital and are exposed to all kinds of stuff daily. We hardly ever get sick and so far our daughter has been pretty healthy also. I believe that there really is something to this. #KCACOLS

  8. Kimberley | Oh Just My Little Blog 06/11/2016 / 7:02 pm

    Really interesting post. I hadn’t really though about all the dirt babies pick up my crawling around and sucking their fingers, but it makes sense that if they survive that they really don’t need everything sterilised to within an inch of its life. I have a rubbish immune system and seem to pick up everything my class have, so I might try eating some dirt myself 😉 x #KCACOLS

    • This glorious life 09/11/2016 / 9:32 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. And now I’m curious to know if your parents kept the house super clean and sterile when you were a baby! x

  9. Jess Powell (Babi a Fi) 06/11/2016 / 8:57 pm

    Before Marianna was born we talked about it and decided we wouldn’t be obsessive with disinfecting, etc, but I still found it really hard at first. The slightest suggestion of dirt would be too much for me! I relaxed as she got older though and, touch wood, she has scarcely had so much as a sniffle so far in her life. #KCACOLS

  10. Jane Taylor 06/11/2016 / 9:57 pm

    I always learn something when I pop over here, Madeline! I suspected this whole clean freak idea wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and I agree, a lot of the sterilizing and fretting about dropped dummys was probably overkill. Yay to this research!! It makes sense! Especially fascinated by the peanut allergy stats. Thanks for sharing! #KCACOLS

  11. Ali Duke 06/11/2016 / 10:04 pm

    I used to clean a dummy with my mouth lol. Like your hubby said, they are crawling on the floor most of the day. As long as the house is generally clean, they will be fine.
    #KCACOLS

  12. emma me and b 07/11/2016 / 3:20 pm

    Super super interesting read and I am completely with you on this. I know a lot of harmful bacteria and viruses cant be seen but I really do think we go ott on these things. I’ve never been overly obsessive with dettoling everything and unless b’s toys were visibly dirty, they never got detolled! I had a friend that detolled toys even if baby dropped them on the floor outside. Her child has had no end of skin probs, colds and stomach bugs, where as (and massively touching wood now) b has been pretty good. We also have lots of cats at home and I remember once reading that kids that have pets tend to get ill less too with common bugs and what not. Who knows ey. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday!

  13. mummy here and there 08/11/2016 / 9:55 pm

    I totally agree and definitely playing with dirt helps build their immune systems X #kcacols

  14. Jenny Chamberlain 08/11/2016 / 11:20 pm

    This is such a good point, I’m not comfortable with dirt at all, I have eczma on my hands and I hate to get them dirty, but I really shouldn’t let this impact on how my little boy gets to grips with nature. I think a walk in the woods is in order (and maybe his dad can clean him up!)

    #KCACOLS

    (http://accidentalhipstermum.com

    • This glorious life 09/11/2016 / 9:26 pm

      I think it can be hard when you have a valid reason for wanting to keep your own hands clean, to then be relaxed about your children getting dirty! But it really is good for them, let him get all mucky with Dad! x

  15. Twicemicrowaved tea 09/11/2016 / 10:32 pm

    This makes complete sense. Surely little ones need to develop their immune system and they can’t do that if they’re not exposed to any germs.

    I also agree with you on the peanuts. I ate peanut butter throughout my pregnancy because I’ve always thought that exposing a baby to things as early as possible will make them less likely to develop an allergy (totally without medical basis!). I was also told by my health visitor that because I have eczema, I should avoid giving my daughter any peanut based products until she’s 5. I haven’t paid attention to that either! #kcacols

    • This glorious life 13/11/2016 / 5:16 pm

      I love that you followed your gut instincts with the whole peanut thing. It just made sense to me to expose my children to small amounts of these things, rather than keep them away from them completely. x

  16. Devon Mama 10/11/2016 / 9:55 pm

    This book sounds quite interesting! I’m very much a ‘bit of dirt never hurt’ parent, toys are always on the floor etc and everything is in his mouth at the moment. It’s just not worth the constant battle to keep things clean so it’s nice to know that theres evidence to support that this approach isn’t just me being slack parent! #kcacols

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