When our son was born I stocked an arsenal of antibacterial products. The mere thought of bacteria and our perfectly healthy, first born son being contaminated, caused me to hyperventilate. All visitors had to wash their hands before we passed over our angel. I occasionally felt bad asking people to wash their hands; my husband had no fears about it. He screened everyone for a cough, sniffle, or ache of something. WebMD says, only 51% of Americans wash their hands after sneezing or coughing, and only 17% wash them after shaking hands.
This is a real public health problem, because 80% of infections are spread by hand.
I remember protecting him inside for weeks, too terrified to go anywhere, for fear he would get sick. When we did venture out I would conceal him in his car seat cocoon so no suspecting grandmas could get their hands on him. Did we have encounters anyway, of course! Did my son get sick, no. But I am glad that my husband and I were so vigilant in helping keep him healthy! In those early infant days, I think it’s important to keep them away from a sickness that can really bring them down. I don’t remember when all of this went to the curb, we are still germ conscious, but our approach is more relaxed these days.
We then learned about the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” This is a theory that suggests if your child’s environment is “too clean” they can then become exposed to worse things. Essentially your child’s immune system will not properly mature, thus exposing them to greater risk or more harmful diseases later on such as asthma.
As new parents we quickly learned, kids stick everything in their mouths. By the time they have a strengthened immune system, your kid has discovered his mouth. We even asked our Pediatrician at an appointment if that was normal. She assured us that this was how they learn about their new world around them. These days our world has grown to include play dates, trips to the store, and other germ filled paradises. A few weeks ago we attended our weekly story time at the local library with a few friends. Our little ones were running around with fistfuls of snacks. Most of them were ending up on the floor and (5 Second Rule!) being picked up and shoved in a mouth. I remember watching them and thinking “Did I just let him do that?”
There comes a point in every mother’s life where extreme cleanliness no longer matters.
We stood there watching them and commenting about how we spend all day chasing them around, monitoring what goes in the mouth, and what ultimately shouldn’t. At restaurants, we put food directly on the table. At home, snack time happens on our coffee table. Which really means it ends up on the floor, Hansel and Gretel style. If my son doesn’t retrieve them before the dogs do, I’m cleaning up the trail. News Flash! I don’t vacuum or mop that floor every day! Our 2 dogs go outside, and they live in our house. Don’t get me wrong here, I love to clean. If you know me personally, you know that I have always been conscious of that. I think that we, as a society, have adopted a false sense of “clean”. The truth is environmental microbes are replaced as quickly as we pick them up.
I know that this will continue, and while it isn’t easy to keep from tasting others toys, food, and generally anything they can get their hands on, I do try to limit that exposure. I’m not letting him eat off the floor of the airport or a restaurant! Fortunately, he is entering a great time to teach him about proper hand washing, and healthy hygiene habits. That’s a whole other topic!
I’m embracing the theory; a little dirt is good for kids.
How do you feel about germs and letting your kids be exposed?