If you bathe your baby everyday, he or she may have a higher risk of developing asthma or eczema. Scientists at the University of Bristol in the U.K. say a child’s immune system needs exposure to dirt in order to develop correctly.

Asthma affects more children around the world every year. One theory says that families are smaller, so children are less exposed to diseases their siblings bring home, resulting in a weaker immune system. It’s been discovered that younger children in a family are less likely to become asthmatic than the older kids.

Doctors also worry that children don’t come into contact with dirt anymore. There’s a lot of childhood asthma in large cities, where children mostly play indoors. Coming into contact with dirt and bacteria strengthens children?s immune systems. Studies have shown that a child who plays with others in a nursery school, owns a pet or lives on a farm is less likely to get asthma.

The Bristol researchers looked at questionnaires from thousands of parents who had been asked about the cleanliness of their 15-month-old children. The researchers wanted to find out how often children’s hands were washed before meals, and how often they were given a bath. Children whose parents practiced the best hygiene were slightly more likely develop asthma or an eczema-like rash. According to researchers, "The creation of a sterile environment through excessive cleanliness may potentially be harmful to the immune system."

At first it was thought that the children might be allergic to the soap and household cleaners being used, but careful checking reduced this possibility.

One of the puzzles of modern life is why we have so many allergic kids, even though modern medicine is so much more effective than childcare was in the past. It could be that children with compromised immune systems did not survive in those days. Or it could be that we?re keeping our kids too clean for them to develop effective immune systems.

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