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How to Strengthen Your Child's Immune System


New research throws mud at old thinking about sterile environments.

Put down the hand gel for a second: A new study found infants who encounter a wide range of bacteria are less likely to develop allergies later in life. Pair that with past research that says the germs and microorganisms that enter a baby's body actually help build a strong immune system, and you may be wondering just how much “dirt” your baby should encounter. Before you decide to bury your baby in a blanket of mud (or bust out the bleach), consider this advice:

A Happy Medium

No one is saying your baby should live in filth but rather that a too-sterile environment may not be the best for baby either, says Todd Mahr M.D., pediatrician and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Section on Allergy and Immunology. “Parents shouldn't be overly obsessed with cleaning everything to a complete degree,” he says.

About those Hand Gels You Love …

Yeah, give them a break. The overuse of antibacterial products may promote the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The general rule is all you really need is soap and water.

Relax a Little

Let little ones go barefoot outside and play in the dirt, advises Joel V. Weinstock M.D., chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Even having pets around will help build your baby's immune system.