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What’s growing on your baby’s pacifier?

If you regularly stick a pacifier in your baby’s mouth to soothe her, be warned that she could be sucking on a host of harmful germs.
If you regularly stick a pacifier in your baby’s mouth to soothe her, be warned that she could be sucking on a host of harmful germs.

Pacifiers are soothing but not necessarily sanitary

Pacifiers are used by up to 85 percent of infants in the United States, but just because they are a common baby accessory does not mean they are safe. New research presented at the 2012 American Society for Clinical Pathology Annual Meeting held in Boston indicates that pacifiers can be contaminated with germs ranging from Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumonia to mold.

“Research shows pacifiers have their benefits, such as soothing infants and even protecting against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but they’re easily contaminated and parents need to do a better job of keeping them clean,” said Jay Bullard, MS, manager of the Microbial Forensics Research Laboratory at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “No one wants to eat with a dirty spoon in a nice restaurant, but parents often think nothing of picking a pacifier up off the floor at a mall and putting it back in an infant’s mouth.”

According to researchers, a contaminated pacifier grows a biofilm, a slimy coating of bacteria that changes the normal microbe balance in the mouth and is particularly resistant to antibiotics. Biofilms can lead to inflammation that may increase the risk of developing colic or ear infections, and are caused by bacteria that have been linked to conditions such as depression, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. There also is evidence that interactions between germs and the immune system can lead to allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

Clean that pacifier

“This study shows unclean pacifiers expose infants to a wide variety of microbes, and we’re at the early stages of learning the many and varied ways those germs can be harmful,” said William J. Becker, DO, MPH, FASCP, ASCP member, and medical director at Quest Diagnostics in Lexena, Kan. “But there’s an easy solution here – parents need to take a few simple steps to keep those pacifiers clean.”

When a pacifier pops out of baby’s mouth, it should be cleaned, no matter where it lands.  Bullard suggests washing it with dish soap and cold water and letting it dry in the open air.  It also can be soaked in a baking soda solution – one teaspoon of baking soda to eight ounces of water. Parents should keep several clean pacifiers on hand – stored dry in a clean baggie. If a pacifier pops out and there are no clean ones available, wiping it off with a tissue is better than nothing, as it prevents biofilm build up and removes some of the germs, Bullard said. Pacifiers should be cleaned daily and discarded every two weeks, or sooner if they show signs of wear, ripping or build up.

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