Great News: A Dirty Home May Be a Healthy Home

Smiling, blue-eyed baby crawling on a hardwood floor.St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University contributed to a mutli-city study that revealed that children who, during their first year of life, lived in homes with bacteria and allergens from cat, mouse, and cockroaches have a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies.

Great news for families with less-than-spotless homes

It turns out, having a little dirt around may be good for your children’s health.  As the mother of 5 kids in the past 10 years, I’ve had a baby crawling on my floor for the past decade so this news makes me happy.

Jenna Lee of Fox New’s “Happening Now” invited me to come clean on how often parents should clean our homes:

Exposure to allergens and bacteria also seems to help development of a child’s gastrointestinal system.

Also this month, another study by Dr. Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University revealed that children need the right variety of good bacteria in their intestines for optimal gastrointestinal function.  The gut contains trillions of good bacteria that help digest food and even make vitamins.  It seems to take at least three years for children to acquire all the different kinds of good bacteria their intestines need.  It’s very important that babies and toddlers get exposed to these bacteria, so that their bodies can absorb all the nutrition they need from their food.  Severely malnourished children often don’t have the right kinds of good bacteria in their gut, so even when they are fed nourishing food, they don’t fully recover from their malnutrition.

Translation: just because you have a baby in your home doesn’t mean you need to Clorox your floors daily and buy a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

Being a germaphobe isn’t healthy for your baby.

Before you throw out your disinfectant, remember that there’s a big difference between regular household dirt and the kind of germs that cause infectious disease.  If a stomach bug or a cold is running through your home, by all means clean your floors and countertops with a disinfectant, and don’t forget the doorknobs and light switches.

Handwashing is still essential for preventing the spread of illness.  If your family has a history of skin infections with the antibiotic resistant bacteria MRSA, you may want to visit with an infectious disease expert to learn how to get this bug out of your home.

As for my baby, she’s crawling like a champ– and I haven’t mopped my floor in about a week.  No guilt here!

Kathleen Berchelmann MD

Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospitaland an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She is the co-founder and director of ChildrensMD, a blog written by five dynamic mom-pediatricians who share their true confessions of trying to apply science and medicine to motherhood.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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