The dirt on getting dirty: How clean do kids really need to be?

Posted in Family Health.

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Ain’t That The Truth LIVE on Facebook

Ain’t That The Truth host Sarah Hunstead is a paediatric emergency nurse, an author and child safety and children’s health advocate. Sarah’s going LIVE each Tuesday at 1.30pm on Babyology’s Facebook page to sort evidence-based fact from fiction and answer questions in real time.

Join our LIVE CHAT about kids and dirt with paediatric emergency nurse and founder of CPR Kids, Sarah Hunstead – just how clean do kids really need to be?For more mythbusting about kids' health, be sure to check out Ain't That The Truth, our new weekly podcast with Sarah – available now wherever you get your podcasts! >

Posted by Babyology on Monday, 16 July 2018

How dirty is too dirty?

This week, Sarah and Babyology editor Livia Gamble spilt the dirt on dirt. Chatting kids’ hygiene, they fielded questions from Facebook followers covering dirt, germs, snot, poo, pet kissing and much much more!

Parents were keen to find out just how clean was clean enough, and worried about the pesky bugs that could make their kids sick. Here’s a little taste of what we learned from Sarah this week …

“One of the important things to remember is that a little bit of dirt is not going to harm them in any way,” Sarah explained. “We actually need to get out there and get into the environment and get into your backyards and get dirty.”

“Exposing our kids to things that are in the dirt is actually good for their immune system … We’re not talking about the dog poo in the backyard. That’s a little bit different. But getting out there, getting a little bit dirty, that’s absolutely fine.”

Soap and water for the win!

Sarah wanted parents to know that soap and water is the very best option when it comes to hand washing for kids.

“Dr Jack Gilbert [has] written a book called Dirt is Good and he really talks about this in this book. So he’s a microbiologist, he studies all of this stuff about kids getting out there, and he says that warm water and soap is exactly what we need to clean our kids. You don’t need to be getting out the anti-bacterial wipes,” Sarah advised.

Editorial: Portrait of cute baby playing with dog on lawn

Why tho?

When Facebook follower Rachel asked that age-old question, “Why does my toddler eat dirt?” Sarah said it’s usually just down to exploration, although in rare cases there can be more to it.

“Have you heard of women who are pregnant with something called pica?” Sarah quizzed. “This is when they get that craving for things. It is a medical thing, there are some kids out there who have pica who get obsessed with doing certain things.”

Generally, though it’s a normal part of development: “That’s how they explore the world, children learn by touching things, by putting them in their mouth by exploring and that is completely normal. So don’t freak out,” she advised.

EDITORIAL: two girls playing in mud

Germs, germs, germs?

When questioned about how to keep babies’ dummies hygienic, Ain’t That The Truth host Sarah says the answer might surprise parents.

“Recently there was a study done that actually encompassed 300 000 kids … What they found was that parents, when the child drops the dummy, they pick it up and pop in their mouth and give it a bit of a clean and stick it back in the child’s mouth. [Their] children actually benefited from this because they get some of our microflora in their mouth. It actually benefits their immune system. They ended up having lower incidences of asthma, eczema and other allergy-related illnesses.”

Use common sense with this approach, Sarah advises: “If you’ve got a little baby and you’ve got the flu, you’re not going to go do that. If you’re sick then you’re not going to go do that. If you’re healthy and well, well this is what the evidence says.”

All the grubby questions

Our Facebook LIVE covered lots of other dirt-themed queries too:

  • How often should your kids have a bath or shower?
  • Can dirt give your kids worms?
  • Is it okay for kids to eat snot?
  • My kids get sick all the time, should I be letting them get dirty?
  • What about antibacterial wipes and soap?
  • What about pesticides? I worry about the local park.
  • How do I get my daughter to STOP eating dirt?
  • How clean do our kids really need to be?
  • What about kids who kiss their pets?

Watch the video above to find out the answer to the questions – and much, much more!

Words of wisdom

When we asked Sarah what she’d most like to tell parents about kids and cleanliness, she had brilliant (and evidence-based) advice.

“You don’t need to stress so much. Kids being around pets is a good thing. Getting into the outdoors, making mud pies … It’s all going to benefit their immune system. They’re going to be okay! You don’t need to run after them with the hand sanitiser!”

For more research-backed real talk about kids’ health issues, Subscribe to Ain’t That The Truth, a Babyology podcast. Listen in through your usual podcast app – or online. 

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