A Healthy Baby Rolls Around in the Dirt?

Do want a healthy baby?  Get him to roll around in the dirt.

For decades, parents have tried to protect infants from bacteria, but it turns out that may actually be counterproductive.

Linda Carroll from NBC News is reporting on a surprising new study that exposure to household bacteria, cat dander, and even rodent allergens — may help protect infants against future allergies and wheezing.

Interestingly, contact with bacteria and dander after the age of 1 was not protective — it actually increased the risk.

The new findings may help explain earlier studies that seem to suggest that kids growing up in a super clean environment are more likely to develop allergies.

The so-called “hygiene hypothesis” was developed after researchers noticed that farm kids were less likely to have allergies.  It was believed that dirty environments might actually be protective.

The new study found that the protective effect of early exposure to allergens was amplified if the home also contained a wide variety of bacteria.

Dr. Robert Wood at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center  says “It was the opposite of what we expected.”  But he adds, “We’re not promoting bringing rodents and cockroaches into the home, but this data does suggest that being too clean may not be good.”

By the way, the new findings appear to contradict advice experts have been giving to parents on the topic of pets and newborns.

Dr. Wood says “Twenty years ago we used to tell parents to get the cats and dogs out of the house.  This shows that the younger the child is when you get a pet, the better.”

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.