A Little Dirt Is Good for Babies

pacifier on a dirty floor

Before I even go down this dirty road, I'd like to make clear that I shower every day, I wash my hands regularly, and my babies get a bath or washcloth cleaning every night before bed. Okay, with that out of the way, here goes ...

Last week, I was part of a group email exchange between a few new Moms talking about the best way to wash their babies' hands in public, to clean their little ones' toys, and comparing the best antibacterial wipes. As the emails kept coming, it became clear that these women were really keen on keeping any and all germs away from their 4-month-old babies. My first thought was, "Oh, maybe I should be more diligent?" My next thought was, "Wait, am I a gross, disgusting person?" Finally, I realized, "Okay, maybe these women need to relax a bit." Of course, no one wants their baby to get sick, but the reality is that exposing babies to dirt and germs is actually better for them in the long run. Really ...


It's called the "hygiene hypothesis," and the scientific theory is that our obsession with cleanliness is actually responsible for the increase in allergies, asthma and other immunological disorders over the last decade or so. It's why children in third world countries don't have anywhere near the number of allergies as those in industrialized cultures. Obviously, genetics plays a huge role as well, but many pediatric allergists believe that a baby exposed to germs builds up stronger immunities, which will ultimately make him or her even healthier.

Of course, I still wash my hands and get my babies vaccinated and I certainly wouldn't knowingly bring them around anyone who is sick. But, my babies don't live in a bubble -- we like to get out and about. I can't stop a bug from flying into their stroller when we're walking around the neighborhood. I can't keep a sniffling woman from getting into the elevator with us. I'm not going to deny my baby one of my fingers to hold because I haven't had a chance to wash it since opening the restaurant door. If I let myself get worked up about every little gross thing they've potentially been exposed to, I would go totally bonkers.

Plus, I've got a black Lab who shakes her hair out and licks her fur all over the house, including the nursery. I often find dog hairs on my babies' faces, on their lips, and a couple of times have found a stray hair in their bottles after it's already too late. (Those with a dog get it -- those without pets are probably throwing up in their mouths a little.) Early on, I figured out that I had two choices: freak out and give away the dog, or just accept that this is how my family lives and how my babies are going to live, so they might as well get used to it. So far, so good (knock on wood).

Still, just to be sure I wasn't in fact just a total, grimy pig of a Mom, I asked my pediatrician if I needed to be washing my babies' hands in public or if I needed to clean the toys that they put in their mouths all of the time. He agreed that no, unless their hands or their toys have fallen in something truly disgusting, the dirt and germs really weren't going to hurt them and in fact, would ultimately make them heartier.

So, there you have it. Of course, many parents feel more comfortable sterilizing their babies' world while others feel it's better for them to be exposed to some ick. Obviously, I fall into the latter category, but I'm not judging those who do otherwise ... as long as they don't judge me. No, I don't think any parent should bring their babies around people who are sick, but I do feel that over-sanitizing may do more harm than good. And that's lucky for me because I have a lot more free time to play and snuggle and roll a ball on the floor with my babies, without constantly having to fetch an organic handi wipe.

Are you concerned about keeping germs away from your babies? Or do you believe babies are better off when they're exposed to everyday germs?

Read More >