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Practicing Healthy Hygiene

Is there such a thing as too clean? Most parents consider germs public enemy #1, but germs may be getting a bad rap. Plenty are harmless and can even help children stay healthy. Recent research shows that a child growing up in a home that's too sanitary may not get enough practice battling germs. The immune system needs germs in order to know how to properly react to bacteria and viruses that cause illness. Too little exposure to germs can result in an immune system that doesn't know how to regulate itself which can lead to autoimmune disorders such as allergies or asthma. This doesn't mean that cleanliness isn't important, but it's more complicated than most of us thought. There are good germs and bad germs. The trick is avoiding the bad while embracing the good. Amy Gorin, Assistant Editor for Health and Nutrition at American Baby Magazine gives the dos and don'ts of hygiene.

Do wash hands. Hands are a germ's best friend. They're constantly moving and spread germs everywhere until you wash them off. Common sense says to wash your child's before meals and when they look dirty, but you should also wash after leaving crowed areas. When washing your child's hands use soap and warm water, rubbing their hands together for 15 seconds or about as long as it takes to say the ABC's twice.

Don't overdo it on antibacterials. Contrary to popular belief, they aren't any more effective than ordinary soap when it comes to protecting from illness. Antibacterial products kill bacteria but they don't kill viruses that lead to colds and flu. But, alcohol based sanitizers are very effective at killing bacteria and viruses and you can use them at times when a sink isn't available to wash hands.

Do let children play outside. It's unfortunate that kids spend less time outside than ever before and it's not making them healthier. Running around outside is good for them becasue casual contact with organisms living in the soil will actually help your child's immune system grow stronger, teaching it how to fight off harmful germs.

Practice sensible sharing. you want your children to play nice and share, but not when it comes to sharing colds. If you're worried about siblings sharing, you shouldn't. Siblings have so much contact that worrying about shared juice boxes isn't going to make a huge difference in spreading sickness. when it comes to friends, it's sensible not to let little friends share food and drink especially if a child is visibly sick. That said, it's possible to stop kids from exchanging germs.

Do toss food that touches the floor. So many people believe that if food falls on the floor, you can follow the "five second rule" meaning if it's only on the ground for five seconds it's still safe to eat. Don't do it. Plenty of bacteria can get on food within the firs five seconds. Since you can never be certain which invisible germs are lurking underfoot, play it safe and toss food when it hits the floor.

The bottom line is parents shouldn't be totally focused on protecting their children from germs. No matter how vigilant you are children will get sick and pretty often. On average they get six to eight colds a year. Every germ your child encounters teaches his immune system how to fight unwanted invaders more powerfully and effectively. For more information on healthy hygiene for your child and other parenting tips, click here.

Amy Gorin & Erika Wortham

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