A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that children whose parents used their own saliva to clean off pacifiers were less likely to develop asthma, eczema and allergies than parents who cleaned pacifiers in other ways.

It may sound disgusting, but the Swedish researchers followed 187 babies until they were 18 months of age. At least one parent had allergies. The researchers studied the transfer of microbes in the parents’ saliva to see if they could identify a different immune response.

“The immune system’s purpose is to differentiate between harmless and harmful,” said Dr. Ron Ferdman, a pediatric allergist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “If your immune system is not presented with enough microbes, it just defaults to doing harmful attacks against things that are not harmful, like food, cat dander or dust mites.”

The hope was that the infant’s immune system could be trained to ignore the germs that do not pose a threat, and it seemed to have worked. However, Ferdman suggested further research should be done before results are interpreted, “It’s a small number of babies studied, so it’s hard to generalize,” he said.

“Babies need to be exposed to the world, and exposure to the normal microbial environment is protective,” Ferdman said. “Breast-feed for at least four to six weeks if you can. Don’t smoke, and don’t expose your children to secondhand smoke.”

And if your baby drops his pacifier, don’t be afraid to use the tried and true mom cleaning method of popping it in your own mouth before giving it back to the baby.

Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT