A Dirty Home is a Healthy Home

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Great news this week for families with less-than-spotless homes– having a little dirt around is good for your children’s health. St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University contributed to a mutli-city study that revealed that children who, during their first year of life, lived in homes with bacteria and allergens from cat, mouse, and cockroaches have a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies.

Having had 5 kids in the past 10 years, I’ve had a baby crawling on my floor for the past decade. Jenna Lee of Fox New’s “Happening Now” invited me to come clean on how often parents should clean our homes:


angry-mop-1421089-mExposure to allergens and bacteria also seems to help development of a child’s gastrointestinal system. Also this month, another study by Dr. Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University revealed that children need the right variety of good bacteria in their intestines for optimal gastrointestinal function. The gut contains trillions of good bacteria that help digest food and even make vitamins. It seems to take at least three years for children to acquire all the different kinds of good bacteria their intestines need. It’s very important that babies and toddlers get exposed to these bacteria, so that their bodies can absorb all the nutrition they need from their food. Severely malnourished children often don’t have the right kinds of good bacteria in their gut, so even when they are fed nourishing food, they don’t fully recover from their malnutrition.

Translation: just because you have a baby in your home doesn’t mean you need to Clorox your floors daily and buy a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Being a germ-a-phobe isn’t healthy for your baby.

Before you throw out your Clorox, remember that there’s a big difference between regular household dirt and the kind of germs that cause infectious disease. If a stomach bug or a cold is running through your home, by all means clorox your floors and countertops, and don’t forget the doorknobs and light switches. Handwashing is still essential for preventing the spread of illness. If your family has a history of skin infections with the antibiotic resistant bacteria MRSA, you may want to visit with the infectious disease experts at St. Louis Children’s Hospital to learn how to get this bug out of your home.

As for my baby, she’s crawling like a champ– and I haven’t mopped my floor in about a week. No guilt here!

Copyright 2014 Kathleen Berchelmann, MD

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About Author

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, M.D., is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. Kathleen is the co-founder and director of ChildrensMD, a blog written by five dynamic mom-pediatricians who share their true confessions of trying to apply science and medicine to motherhood. Kathleen and her husband are raising five children. Connect with her at KathleenBerchelmannMD.com. Dr. Berchelmann is a frequent contributor to health and parenting TV news segments including Fox New’s “Happening Now,” with Jenna Lee and Jon Scott, and St. Louis stations KTVI (Fox) and KSDK (NBC). On the radio, Kathleen has a weekly segment on EWTN’s Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick. Her written work has been featured in print and online publications including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, and TIME magazine. Prior to medical school, Dr. Berchelmann attended divinity school at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Together with her husband Greg, she created CatholicPediatrics.org, which features a searchable directory of Catholic pediatricians. She is also a regular contributor to Aleteia as well as CatholicMom.com. Follow Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann on Facebook: ChildrensMomDocs, Twitter: @MomDocKathleen and connect with her on Google+ and LinkedIn.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you! I really appreciate all the articles that you’ve written and your perspective as an MD; it’s been very informative. This article in particular helps me feel validating in my housekeeping techniques, haha!

    It would be interesting to examine how the attitudes of parents who try to keep an immaculate house and those who are more lax may affect their children. I wonder if children in somewhat “dirty” homes build a better immune system at least in part because parents are modeling more relaxed behavior than the anxiety that the “immaculate house” parents may model. Certainly there are some parents who keep an immaculate house without being anxious–I don’t know how they do it, haha, but they do! But in my experience, many of my friends have attested to their need to keep things perfectly clean coinciding with problematic anxiety whereas my friends who are more lax about house cleaning tend to have less anxiety.

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