It is absolutely understandable why, as a parent, you would find it horrifying to let your precious baby crawl and roll on dirty surfaces. A concept called “hygiene hypothesis,” however, might help ease your worries about letting your child explore the world.
Germ Exposure is not a Bad Thing
Dr. David Strachan first proposed the hygiene hypothesis in 1989. Its premise is that exposure to certain infections decrease the risk of developing related allergies. Thus, Strachan and his fellow researchers suggested that when a child has limited exposure to bacteria, parasites, and viruses, there is a greater chance of developing asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune diseases later on in life.
Furthermore, various other studies also prove that immunological and autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in industrialized countries than in developing countries, where diverse organisms are present. This is because when you expose a child to diverse organisms, their immune system builds a “database” that allows it to identify and respond to harmful agents in the future, both in the external and internal.
There are Safe Ways to let Kids Get Dirty
Bacteria, germ, and even parasite exposure can facilitate the development of a child’s immune system, so you can relax a little bit more about letting your kids be kids. Start by allowing supervised play outdoors. They might end up with weeds lodged in their clothes and dirt under their fingernails, but these will all help boost their immune system.
Let your child spend time with other kids as well. Having them participate in a soccer team, kiddie boot camps, and other extracurricular activities that expose them to other kids’ sweat, sniffles, and skin, can be a great immune system booster.
The hygiene hypothesis suggests that exposing children to some germs could give them an advantage over children who grew up in more sheltered environments later on in life. The health professionals from Intermountain LDS Hospital, however, say it is still important to maintain good standards of home and personal hygiene. A little bit of germ exposure might toughen your child’s immune systems, but too much can be disastrous, after all.