Yes, there are overprotective moms when it comes to their child's health because for one thing, it is never easy to see and care for a sick baby. Why do you think one of a mom's lifesavers is the wet tissue or wipes.
They say prevention is better than cure, right? So to make sure children don't get sick, moms have the license to be obsessive-compulsive (OC) about hygiene. We tend to clean and clean and clean, but sometimes, to a fault.
Our grandparents have always said exposing kids to germs wouldn't hurt. Last year we wrote about the research that suggested our lolas may be right — toddlers do need germs and bacteria. A study from Aalto University in Finland, for example, indicated that microbial exposure early in life seems to lessen a child’s likelihood of autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, asthma, allergies and illnesses linked to inflammation such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
When we overly sanitize an infant’s environment, we may be hindering them from developing a healthy immune system. “Children raised in an ultraclean environment are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits,” Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center, told The New York Times.
Now, there is a new study that suggests infants who are not exposed to enough bacteria and germs are more prone to develop acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It's the most common form of blood cancer that affects one in 2,000 children.
After three decades of research, Professor Mel Greaves of the Institute of Cancer Research and an author of the study explained that children getting sick with this particular type of leukemia involves a two-step process:
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The first step is a genetic mutation that happens while the baby is still in the mother's womb. This mutation sets up the child to be predisposed to developing the blood cancer.
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The second step occurs after the child is born. If an infant wasn't exposed to enough infections in his or her first year of life, then he or she is more likely to develop ALL.
The paper says further that children who grew up in cleaner households during their first year and interacted less with other children are more likely to develop ALL, which is rare but the highest incidence is diagnosed in children ages 0 to 4 years old.
"The research strongly suggests that (ALL) has a clear biological cause and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed," Greaves says in a statement.
Greaves suggests that a case could be made that this childhood leukemia could be preventable in light of the study's results, though he stresses that genes and luck will still play a role.
The study, of course, still needs to answer a LOT of questions, such as what kind of bacterial exposure triggers the disease or helps prevent it. You cannot wholly disregard hygiene and safety. Some infections have been proven to be harmful to infants' still-developing immune system.
Being exposed to specific microbes helps teach our immune system to keep our bodies healthy by training it to recognize what’s dangerous, what’s not, and how our body should react. If a child's immune system doesn't learn that early enough, then it wouldn't be able to fight them off.
Making sure our family isn't too clean doesn't mean we disregard handwashing entirely for example. "Hygiene is something so much more than cleanliness," Professor Sally Bloomfield of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) told The Huffington Post U.K. "All that involves is hand washing, keeping surfaces clean," Bloomfield stresses.
Proper hygiene should still be practiced when preparing raw food, using the toilet, disposing of the trash, and looking after your pets.
“There has to be a balance between preventing infection, which is still a real threat to society, but also promoting this microbial exposure that is healthy,” explains microbiologist Marie-Claire Arrieta, co-author of the book Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Our Children from an Oversanitized World. “Hygiene is crucial to our health. We should not stop washing our hands, but we should do it at a time when it is effective at preventing disease spread — before we eat and after using the restroom.”