We’ve been told since we were young that germs and bacteria are anything but beneficial to health. Our natural reaction to these unwanted organisms is complete and utter destruction. We don’t want any sign of it living inside our homes, much less the nursery room. So, we habitually wipe everything clean and sanitize our baby’s stuff to make them squeaky clean and, of course, 100% germ-free.
However, recent studies have found out that excessive cleanliness may actually lead to immune system dysfunction in children, primarily from lack of exposure to various kinds of microorganisms. In other words, being ‘too’ clean actually makes your child’s immune system less capable in recognizing and fighting against infection compared to children who had been exposed to it at an early age.
Aside from increased susceptibility to certain diseases, children who have less exposure to microorganisms may also develop autoimmune disorders and allergies. It’s when your baby’s bodily defenses cannot properly distinguish the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ and becomes overly reactive even to most ordinary substances.
Experts offer some explanation as to why we should not be overly protective to our babies’ health:
- Exposure to microorganisms activates, strengthens, and helps in the proper development of immune system.
- Babies who have been previously exposed to certain microorganisms are less susceptible to some types of disease and they are able to recover much faster.
- The immune system’s ability to fight against infection tends to regress over time if not given the chance to do the work it’s intended to.
Your baby’s defenses need to do its work in order to function well. It has to do some germ-fighting in order to be good at it, even just a little bit. Think of how your baby learned to stand up, took some wobbly steps and eventually was able to walk on his own. It’s because you’re not afraid to let him do what nature intends him to do. The same is true with your baby’s immune system.
So how do we maintain cleanliness without overdoing it? Here are some suggestions:
- Under normal conditions, refrain from habitual sterilization of your baby’s belongings. Normal washing with soap and clean water will do. Wipe it clean or dust it off. In some cases where bacterial presence is too numerous or too harmful for your baby’s defenses, sanitization would be wise.
- Take some time to explore the outside world with your baby like some wooded place or parks, etc. This allows him to get out of his comfort zone away from the ‘sterile’ corners of the nursery room.
- Take some furry friends with you. Some experts believe having a pet dog inside the home would help prevent allergies in the future, like asthma, and help increase microbial diversity in the home.
As a final note, timing is extremely crucial when allowing your baby’s immune system to do its work. Typically, his immune system is fully capable of fighting minor infections by the time he reaches 2 to 3 months. From here on, his body’s defenses must be allowed to function on its own. Waiting until he reaches 1 year old could be too late and his immune system might not be able to fully develop.