Dirty Baby, Healthy Baby (#270)

Unless it’s in his garden, my Chinese-American husband doesn’t notice dirt. I’m the one who notices when there’s pet hair piling up and hauls out the vacuum—usually every few days. I like my house neat, especially if we have company coming over.

But once our high maintenance, non-napping Baby D arrived, the vacuum disappeared into the hall closet, sometimes for weeks.

We soon had two dozen dust bunnies to go with our two dogs and two cats. Dishes piled up in the sink. Andy, who was in charge of hungry Baby D’s supplemental bottles, washed dishes in order to wash bottles. Suddenly, my once-messy husband cared about clean sinks, clean bottles, and clean pacifiers.

Baby D did not care about pacifiers – clean or dirty. He didn’t want to suck, he wanted to chew.

Open mouth, insert tail.

Once Baby D figured out how to move, he put everything in his mouth. He didn’t care if it was alive or dead. People fingers. Dog tails. Cat tails. House plants. Dust bunnies.

After he chewed Andy’s thumb into an opposable bruise on one airline flight, we discovered that the bulb of an oral medicine dropper made an awesome, soothing chew toy.

Baby D’s preferred chew toy.

Unfortunately, Baby D dropped his dropper constantly. Andy, worrying over the amount of dirt the dropped dropper was collecting, attached the dropper to Baby D’s shirt with a pacifier clip.

Despite its proximity, Baby D often eschewed his medicine dropper in favor of other items. He especially enjoyed munching on toys at the YMCA, where we attended Mommy & Me classes or he went into Childwatch while I worked out (or just got a shower).

Once Baby D’s back teeth started coming in, though, the medicine dropper didn’t satisfy him. I spent several exhausting days with a fussy, angry toddler. Andy arrived home one night to find Baby D raiding Woofie’s dog bowl on our patio.

“Ahhh! Honey!” Andy yelled. “Baby D has dog kibble in his mouth!”

“Yep,” I told him. “He likes to put it between his back teeth.”

“But…it’s dog food! And he took it right from the bowl! Which has dog drool! Gross!”

“I. Don’t. Care. The kid is finally quiet. He can eat all the dog drool he wants.”

“But he’ll get sick!”

“No, he won’t. Woofie and Fey are fine. Think of them as, like, taste-testers for our little tyrant, okay?”

Andy was unconvinced. He tried to pry the kibble out of Baby D’s mouth. Baby D bit him. When Andy finally did extract the kibble, Baby D raided the dog bowl again and howled when it was empty. Andy finally gave in and let Baby D happily chew a piece.

I got a lot of dark looks and barely audible mumblings about how I was potentially poisoning our child.

Baby D did get sick, but that wasn’t unusual. He got various colds, like any kid. I didn’t really worry until he was diagnosed with hand, foot, and mouth disease. Poor guy had such bad blisters on his hands and feet that he looked like he’d been attacked by fire ants. For a day, the kid screamed every time he tried to swallow solid food (he had blisters in his mouth and throat).

Andy, of course, was convinced it was the dog kibble.

When Baby D was well enough to return to Childwatch, we discovered that the YMCA had been the source of the outbreak. The kid rooms had been sterilized, but the staff warned me that my child might get infected if I left him there.

I handed Baby D over immediately. “He’s already had it. And I haven’t had a shower in two days.”

I did wonder, as I washed my hair, if perhaps I was a little too blasé about dirt. Hand, foot, and mouth had been pretty horrible. Did Andy have a point? I did a little research.

Turns out, Andy did not have a point. Not in the long run. Human immune systems evolved with dirt—and lots of it. We have search and destroy cells called neutrophils. When these neutrophils can’t find legit problematic cells to attack, they go stir-crazy (i.e., become inflammatory ) and attack things like pollen. This attack triggers everything from allergies to eczema.

Seeding your child’s microbiome with dirt is also critical for the proper development of their endocrine system and their neurodevelopment. Kids who grow up with outdoor dogs and cats (especially more than one) are up to 44% less likely to have allergies and asthma.

I happily pointed all this out to my husband as soon as possible.

“So I should just let him eat dog kibble?” he asked. “It still seems wrong.”

“Dude. How many pets did you grow up with?”


“I grew up with 5 different dogs, countless cats, 4 guinea pigs, 3 rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, and turtles. Family legend even has it that I ate one dog’s food when I was a baby.”

“Why would you tell this to a guy who has kissed your mouth?!”

“Now. Which one of us has asthma?”

“It’s only infection-induced asthma! It’s not every day!” Andy argued.

“True. But which one of us gets more infections and has to be on antibiotics at least once a year?”

Andy glared at me, but eventually conceded that—stomach flu aside—I had the healthier immune system. He gradually quit trying to police everything that went into Baby D’s mouth. Even dog kibble.

In fact, Andy may have relaxed a little too much. Once, when I returned from an event and asked Andy how his day with Baby D was, he told me it was fine.

Only hours later did he finally say, “You know, I know we’re supposed to let him eat whatever, but he did kinda gross me out today.”

“Really? What did he put in his mouth?”

“Cat food.”

I shrugged. “That’s no big deal.”

“Well, yeah. But it was after the cat had puked it up.”

“Ahhhhh! Disgusting! WHY would you let him eat that?!”

Turns out, even us microbe-pushing moms have a limit.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

17 thoughts on “Dirty Baby, Healthy Baby (#270)”

  1. My mom was a firm believer of dirt. I made mud pies and cooked with mud when I was a kid. I don’t remember if I ate it but I’m sure I tasted it in case it needed salt. Just like my mama! The latest data I’m reading about allergies supports this. My granddaughters had a lot of varied food early (they live out west where people eat anything with hot sauce on it!) and haven’t had any allergy issues. Of course they grew up with 2 dogs and 2 cats. Pets serve a very important purpose. Even more than being adorable.

    1. I kinda think being in a big family is helpful, too. Older and younger siblings bring in plenty of their own microbes, too.

      Of course, all these dirt and microbes are great for a regular immune system. For those children with compromised immune systems? Not so much.

  2. My folks and I are very fussy. Pacifiers were sterilized several times a day. Baby monkey is not allowed to play with dirt or in the dirt. So far he is doing ok, knock on wood. We have an indoor dog, a rescue dacshund, so I am hoping he is learning compassion.

  3. Baby A. ate a handful of eggshell today. Then asked for more.

    I would have loved for him to grow up with a pet but I’m not ready yet to have another dog. Maybe in a couple of years.

    1. Losing a pet is hard. Really hard. And getting/ training a new pet while taking care of a baby?

      So difficult, especially if you don’t have a yard to put the dog in while coping with croup/ colic/ noroviruses, etc.

  4. Apparently, breastfeeding baby up to 6 months decreases the risk of asthma attack. So far I’ve been resilient to Dengue fever and bird flu. However, the MMR vaccine was useless as I recovered from mumps not too long ago which was really ridiculous at my age. It was mild so I only had swollen cheeks without fever.

    In Hong Kong, the re-emergence of tuberculosis was shocking. Two of my friends are still undergoing months of antibiotic treatment. Especially in America, weird infection is getting common because people have a tendency to flush uneaten antibiotics down the toilet bowl or dumped into river instead of throwing into designated drug dumping bin. Those antibiotics will give rise to newer more resistance strains of bacteria.

    1. Yes, breastfeeding can be very helpful, too. Though it is incredibly difficult for many women, especially working women. I’ve also known moms who had babies with everything from acid reflux to breastmilk allergies.

      We demand a lot of moms — keep your kid free of serious infection, but make sure they get plenty of microbes to enhance their immune system. You should breast feed, but keep working, even though we don’t have private facilities or pumping rooms. Oh, you had a C-section? It might be major surgery, but we’re not going to offer you any physical therapy or rehab. Good luck with those sliced up abdominal muscles. And paying for childcare.

      It’s no wonder fewer and fewer women are opting to have kids.

  5. Fun fact about neutrophils: chicken soup really fires ’em up, stimulating them to attack germs. This is why grandmas everywhere were onto something when they claimed chicken soup was a cure-all. Turns out it’s good for the soul AND the body!

      1. I didn’t make mud pies, but my mom was very relaxed by the time I rolled around. I was the third and she was 40. She was not about to interfere with anything that wasn’t going to kill or maim me.

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