Study finds baby's spit-cleaned pacifier is OK
May 6th, 2013
01:15 PM ET

Study finds baby's spit-cleaned pacifier is OK

As a parent, there are undoubtedly a few things you do now that before you had children you thought were gross: Changing diapers, wiping up vomit and using your own spit to clean off a child's pacifier, just to name a few.

Though it's hard to admit, most parents have done the latter. You're out at the mall when your kid drops his pacifier and there's not a place to clean it nearby. So you pick it up, suck on it a bit and hand it back to your baby.

What's the harm?

Turns out cleaning a recently dropped pacifier with your saliva - meaning you put it in your mouth before inserting it back into your baby's - may actually help strengthen your child's immune system and keep him from developing certain allergies, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. When parents cleaned pacifiers in this way their children were significantly less likely to develop eczema, a skin condition considered to be the most common early form of allergies.

The study

Researchers enrolled about 180 Swedish children in the study and took samples of their saliva. Babies whose parents had put the pacifier in their own mouths to clean it had a different microbe soup, if you will, then those whose parents had either rinsed the pacifiers under water or boiled it.

At 18 months the children whose parents licked the pacifiers had one-third the risk of developing eczema compared to children whose parents used a different cleaning method.

The scientists also looked at the number of respiratory infections among the children.  They found that both groups, on average, had the same number of infections, no matter how the pacifiers were cleaned.

Behind the results

It seems counter-intuitive - wouldn't adding your germs to the floor dirt on the pacifier make your baby sick?

Scientists think that sucking the pacifier transfers some of Mom or Dad's bacteria to the infant. Research has shown that babies need to be exposed to a wide variety of bacteria, viruses and other organisms to help their immune systems develop and mature properly. If this doesn't happen early, the baby's system tends to overreact to harmless particles like cat hair, pollen, or various foods, treating them as if they are dangerous, which can lead to allergies.

Our emphasis to keep things exceedingly clean over the last few decades may actually be depriving a baby's immune system of some of the organisms it needs to help it thrive, according to the study.


"Should we change our behavior based on this study?" asks Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy and Immunology Executive Committee. "I would say no."

"But this study does bring up intriguing questions about the oral bacteria and how it might influence a developing immune system in a positive say to protect against allergy," adds Matsui. She says more studies are needed to see if these findings can be replicated.

Bottom line: The next time you're out at the mall and have forgotten an extra pacifier, don't be too concerned if you need to clean the dropped one with your own saliva.

soundoff (113 Responses)
  1. Royer

    I'm sure prehistoric mothers pre-chewed food for their babies. Same thing.

    May 6, 2013 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lgbarn

      Exactly...look at all the allergies kids have now. Germaphobia caused all the weak immune systems.

      May 6, 2013 at 16:50 | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      Not just prehistoric mothers, but all mothers in the other 80% of the world's population who don't buy baby food in little glass jars.

      May 6, 2013 at 20:06 | Report abuse |
    • ScottCA

      a baby's immune system is not developed or fully functioning yet, germs can be deadly. A baby gets their immunity from the mother, they do so by receiving it through the mothers breast milk. It is very important that mothers provide breast milk to their baby so the baby will be protected from germs and pathogens

      May 6, 2013 at 22:41 | Report abuse |
    • Allyson

      And I'm sure the lifespan back then was about 18 years give or take.

      June 25, 2013 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
  2. hecep

    In spite of the study results, the idea of a parent with a cold sore, fever blister, or herpes spitting on their child's pacifier doesn't seem altogether wise.

    May 6, 2013 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fred Evil

      Not really what they discussed. I'm guessing this study involved otherwise healthy adults, not folks with Hep-C or HIV or the bubonic plague.

      May 6, 2013 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
    • Proud American

      Not to mention that the same parent kissing or playing with their kids could transmit some of those same diseases anyway. Therefore, not a really valid point.

      May 6, 2013 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
    • MGG

      Or transmission of the bacteria that lead to tooth decay.

      May 6, 2013 at 17:15 | Report abuse |
    • hecep

      Greetings, PAand FE. In response: First, because a parent could "transmit some of those same diseases anyway" does not mean it's okay to intentionally infect your children via a pacifier dosed as I described. Saying it's okay is the same as saying, well, I'm bound to get into a car accident one of these days, so might as well drive my car into a pole. What has your physician told you when you've gone to him with any kind of lip sore? Secondly, yes, you're right, the study did not mention viruses although the article did, i.e., "Research has shown that babies need to be exposed to a wide variety of bacteria, viruses and other organisms to help their immune systems develop and mature properly", which, at least to me, when hooked up with the study itself in the context of this article, creates an unwise takeaway for the more casual reader. Question to both of you: You have a cold sore on your lip. Would you put a pacifier into your mouth and then put that pacifier into your child's mouth?

      May 6, 2013 at 23:27 | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      I agree with Hecep. And I've seen many parents do this without a second thought which is why nearly ALL of the population has one or both forms of herpes. Studies suggest the oral kind is more dangerous possibly resulting in dementia, Alzheimer's or other brain disordes. But since we call them cold sores, most don't consider them that harmful and modern medicine is only concerned about the money they can make from treatment instead of a cure.

      May 7, 2013 at 03:04 | Report abuse |
    • gbdc

      Just a few years ago this was a bad idea because it introduced bacteria that causes significant tooth decay.

      May 7, 2013 at 10:56 | Report abuse |
  3. hecep

    I would use the baby's own drool to clean its pacifier. Don't they drool all the time?

    May 6, 2013 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dazzy

    We've known this for years. Part of the reason health care costs are skyrocketing is due to the "cleanliness" of current generations. Kids that ate dirt, picked their noses and ate it, never washed their hands etc. are far less likely to become sick later in life.

    That's not my opinion, that's fact from thousands of studies over the last 45 years. Yet new parents routinely keep their children in proverbial bubbles while growing up.

    May 6, 2013 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • M.E.

      Kids who don't wash their hands are still more likely to have diarrhea since that's what happens when you use the bathroom then don't wash your hands. It's just that kids don't die of that in the western world since we have pedialyte. Germs to some extent are good, but fecal bacteria doesn't really fall into that.

      May 6, 2013 at 17:34 | Report abuse |
    • b-ran

      thousands? Maybe a hyperbole. I get what your saying, but watch the extremes here. I doubt you really know of 5 actual studies to point to on this.

      May 7, 2013 at 03:30 | Report abuse |
  5. Scott

    I knew I was a true dad when my son dropped his lollipop in the dirt and started to cry. I instinctively popped it in my mouth, cleaned off the dirt, and handed it back to him. Without hesitation. You could not have PAID me to do that it any other situation but when it's your kid....

    May 6, 2013 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Oktober

      What a great comment. I actually giggled out loud, what a great dad to never think twice about yourself if it means making your son happy. Good job.

      May 7, 2013 at 08:32 | Report abuse |
  6. Isaac Yankem, DDS

    However, this gives your child the bacteria that causes cavities. So, while they wont get eczema, they will be predisposed to decay.

    May 6, 2013 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DL

      Actually i believe that there are studies out there that show that mixes of saliva from other people may be beneficial I.e. you make out with a significant other (again in the same regards) you have DDS next to your name...don't you read studies? just one and maybe not the best source however.. please read...http://www.deltadentalins.com/oral_health/kissing.html

      May 6, 2013 at 22:30 | Report abuse |
    • RyanC

      He's a troll. He's acting like a dentist but take a close look at his last name. If that really is his last name and he really is a dentist, I don't see how he stays in practice...

      May 7, 2013 at 05:00 | Report abuse |
    • Metallikrow

      Isaac Yankem is an old WWF wrestler. Just FYI

      May 7, 2013 at 11:57 | Report abuse |
  7. Steff

    I didn't need a scientific study to tell me this. It is intuitive that your child is in fact exposed to parents germs all the time unless one cares for them gloved and gowned. It seemed obvious to me that it is better to expose them to familiar germs than the ones on the floor of the restaurant.

    May 6, 2013 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. lbish84

    Never would have occurred to me that it's not safe for the baby... but what about the parents who are sucking dirt off of the thing! GO wash it, bring a wet wipe or bring a spare!

    May 6, 2013 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      Yes, but what chemicals are on that wipe? Sure it says non-toxic but that's now, go back enough years even lead was non toxic because they didn't know any better. Mom spit is the oldest, most trusted, cleaner available!

      May 6, 2013 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
    • bitnar

      Nope...i ALWAYS carried extra pacifiers. Once one hit the ground in a public place, it went in the trash.

      May 6, 2013 at 17:14 | Report abuse |
    • Beth

      Bitnar, are you made of money? A 2-pack of binkies costs $6! Yes, an extra or two is a good idea in case it gets dropped and you don't notice, but to throw it away? My son lost one on the bike trail and we found it weeks later, I DID boil before he used it again.

      May 6, 2013 at 20:34 | Report abuse |
  9. t3chsupport

    Only seems counter intuitive if you're unable to look beyond our own borders.

    Many MANY cultures still feed their baby by chewing up their food and spitting it into their mouth like a baby bird. Because they don't have things like blenders and jars of baby food.

    And yet, here we are, not extinct!

    May 6, 2013 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Susie

      Yeah but the infant mortality rate in those countries are what? About 30%?

      May 6, 2013 at 16:59 | Report abuse |
    • sp

      And you have proof that this particular act causes the higher infant mortality rate ? Or is it the lack of good healthcare ?

      May 6, 2013 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
  10. tweneboah-kodua

    i see it as filthy when my friend dad was doing i think is not good and man has to refrain from it .it at times give children headache as they grow many research conducted in Ghana also find out that children grow to have chronic headaches

    May 6, 2013 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Erlo

    Sorry, but I think NOT spitting on a pacifier will do the trick just fine.

    May 6, 2013 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. MysteriaKiito

    My grandmother used to say "you eat a peck of dirt before you die". Meaning being too clean is a little silly because no matter what we do we're going to ingest something dirty one point or another. She firmly believed as long as it wasn't immensely filthy(like dropping it on the bathroom floor) then it was fine. My kids have always put things in their mouth faster than I can take it away to clean it and they're not horribly sick from doing so. I myself grew up to be a germaphobe and what has it done for me? I'm sick all the time because I never built up my immune system.

    May 6, 2013 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Susie

    I have to say, I never dreamed of spitting on a pacifier. That is what wipes are for.

    May 6, 2013 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. ToneTheFunGI

    The whole thing is missing the point. Throw out the pacifier, no child needs one.

    May 6, 2013 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Beth

      You're cool with your child ingesting the chemicals they put on wipes but not your own saliva?

      May 6, 2013 at 20:36 | Report abuse |
    • AbbyJ

      Sucking is comforting to an infant, whether it's the pacifier, their thumb, or nursing. And pacifier use lowers the risk of SIDS.

      May 7, 2013 at 14:03 | Report abuse |
  15. Kalyn

    I've spit cleaned my sons binky after sucking my bfs and he hasn't died yet

    May 6, 2013 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. M

    How about wiping the pacifier on your shirt, a bib, or a cloth diaper?

    May 6, 2013 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TQ

      Wipe on shirt or pant, lick it, back to baby. Wash it if there is water. Hide it if the baby doesnt notice it is gone. Two of my children had phases where they wanted a pacifier for a few months. Not a problem. I was a nervous mother until my second child crawled over and licked my shoe. The little princess would try it whenever I was cleaning the kitchen. Children will make you get over a whole bunch of stuff. Haha!

      May 6, 2013 at 21:58 | Report abuse |
  17. John Mann

    First off, don't go changing your ways over a tiny survey of 180 people. Secondly, this story disregards gum and other oral disease you will pass on.

    If you want to help you baby build immunities, toss all the paranoid antibacterials soaps and go back to old fashioned soap. And let your kids play without being so anti-germ.

    May 6, 2013 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. j.

    This is ridiculous. As others have pointed out, doing this could transmit herpes. A parent may not even realize that he/she has it and then passes it to the child. Also, this could also contribute to the spread of other diseases and fungal infections. .

    May 6, 2013 at 18:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Patrish

    I'm sorry babies need pacifiers because......??

    May 6, 2013 at 18:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AbbyJ

      As I replied to someone else: Sucking is comforting to an infant, whether it's the pacifier, their thumb, or nursing. And pacifier use lowers the risk of SIDS.

      May 7, 2013 at 14:06 | Report abuse |
  20. Floss

    UTTER Nonsense. Your baby drops his pacifier on the ground. You pick it up, put it in your mouth. There is no way to keep the dirt that was on the ground from remaining on the pacifier. Now not only have to put dirt in your childs mouth, you have just put it in yours as well.

    Its pretty obvious the people that conducted this study are complete mor0ns.

    May 6, 2013 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Anna

    Doesn't doing this increase a child's likelihood of getting Thrush (yeast infection of the mouth)? I'm a mother-baby nurse, and that's what we always taught at my practice....???

    May 6, 2013 at 18:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Kalyn

    If they live on this world they will eventually get herpes anyway so why worry if everyone has it?

    May 6, 2013 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Mark

    This is news to me. I didn't know that people actually did that. I thought people just rinsed them off if the fell on the ground. I do agree, this country has become obsessed with germs, using anti-bactrial soaps to take the place of what our immune system should be doing. When I was growing up, you never even heard of kids with allergies to peanuts and now it's common. I also think antibiotices are being overprescribed, rather than letting your immune system deal with it.

    May 6, 2013 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Samantha Meyers

    If any of you are over the ge if 28 or older have had a spit bath – with napkin, as well as mommy sucking on your pacifier when dropped. We used wet wash cloths put into a plastic bag for diaper changing etc. Back then moms weren't scared of germs, you did what had to be done.

    May 6, 2013 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. rh

    I did my best to avoid pacifiers for my children. One never used one, one used one that was a gift – once and then rejected it. The other started to use it frequently for about a month, and I threw it out. Lazy lazy LAZY parenting in my book.

    May 6, 2013 at 20:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AbbyJ

      And how is it "lazy"? Sucking is comforting to an infant, whether it's the pacifier, their thumb, or nursing. It's 1 of the "5 S's" to comfort infants: swaddle, side or stomach position, shushing, swaying/swinging, and sucking. And pacifier use lowers the risk of SIDS.

      May 7, 2013 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
  26. J

    This is how tooth decay causing bacteria are spread. Terrible idea. Caries risk is determined by family history because of the virulence of the parents' bacteria. This is a sure fire way to spread decay risk to your kids.

    May 6, 2013 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. stevefl00d

    Of course, then because you picked something off the ground and sucked on it, YOU are the one that gets trenchmouth.

    May 6, 2013 at 21:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. TQ

    I like the clips that keep the pacifier from falling in the first place. Makes a great gift.

    May 6, 2013 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. kznny

    We carry pacifier wipes in a diaper bag. How do those parents that can't carry a basic wipe change an "accidentally" dirty diaper?

    May 7, 2013 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Kraft

    Reblogged this on Kraft on WordPress and commented:
    Now let's see if I can convince Vanessa of this…

    May 7, 2013 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Janet Dubac

    How about the risk of passing on mouth diseases to your baby? or the dangerous diseases that are transmitted by saliva? It may be okay for some parents and I respect that but for me, I'm not going to do that because I think you'll be putting your baby at more risk and I think that here, the risk outweighs the benefits.

    May 7, 2013 at 07:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Sue Lackman RDH

    Spitting on a pacifier will also transfers the bacteria that cause cavities, greatly increasing the risk that your child will then get them. If you want to lick your childs pacifier, keeping your own mouth clean and cavity-free will help reduce the chance they will get the bacteria that cause cavities.

    May 7, 2013 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. VinoBianco

    um, what about how disgusting it is for the parent to pick up something that fell on the ground and putting it in his/her mouth? no, i would not do that.

    May 7, 2013 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Andrea J Miller DDS

    I can't believe that they are even considering this one. The benefits do NOT out way the risks involved here. Besides a plethora of oral and systemic diseases that can be transmitted this way, tooth decay being is the most likely of all. It has been proven that parents who have suffered from many dental caries themselves are likely to pass the same virulence and associated problems on to their children. The "soft teeth" issue is a myth. It's the resident bacteria that the child receives from the parent. Besides, after the pacifier has been contaminated on the ground, is a parent's mouth really going to make it "clean"? Did they swab the pacifier before and after the parent's "cleaning" procedure to see what would grow? Remember what they said about a woman's purse?

    May 7, 2013 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Courtney A. Griffin

    Reblogged this on Black People's Health and commented:
    Absolutely amazing discovery. Doing so will also lessen your child's' likelihood of developing allergies and asthma. Make sure to read!

    May 7, 2013 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Misty

    I'm confused. Not more than two years ago I read an article either on MSN or CNN stating parents shouldn't kiss their babies or toddlers because the kiss could transmit harmful bacteria and other assorted germs and now it's okay to lick your baby's pacifier because now parental saliva can bolster the baby's immune system? Do these scientists know from one year to the next what the hell is going on? Lesson here: If you as a parent think it unwise to clean your baby's pacifier by licking it, then don't do it and to hell with the contradictory studies!

    May 7, 2013 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. CW

    Or you can not be a loser and use a tissue or your shirt. As if their is no logical alternative....I love how one guy in the media discovers something and then a million articles are written telling the masses as if this is the greatest of their parenting worries.

    May 7, 2013 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Richard Malkin

    You should make it so people can print this off easily. your website sucks.

    May 7, 2013 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Karrie Kyles

    An allergist/immunologist can provide expert medical advice and treatment in the evaluation and management of people with allergic diseases, asthma and immune problems (see above for types of patients seen). This includes the ability to perform and interpret allergy testing, expertise in treating complex allergic diseases and asthma, as well as the ability to prescribe allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots).

    June 7, 2013 at 05:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Martha

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