Whether it’s called a nook, a paci or a binky, a baby’s pacifier is bound to end up on the kitchen floor once in a while. Parents desperate to calm their child may “clean” the pacifier by popping it into their own mouths. Disgusting? Maybe, but it could have a positive impact on the future health of the child, a new study published in Pediatrics suggests.

Toddlers were less likely to develop asthma and eczema if their pacifiers had been shared by their parents, the researchers found. The researchers compare it to the exposure to bacteria that babies delivered vaginally benefit from. Knowing that vaginal births are linked to fewer childhood allergies, researchers sought to find out if saliva on pacifiers could foster a similar bacterial diversity.

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“We know these bacteria are important for development,” Dr. Wilfried Karmaus from the University of Memphis, who has studied asthma and eczema but wasn’t involved in the new research, told Reuters.

The researchers tested their hypothesis by following 184 babies and their moms for three years, testing them for allergies at 18 months and 36 months. Toddlers were 63 percent less likely to have eczema at 18 months if their parents had sucked on their pacifier, and 88 percent less likely to have asthma.

At 36 months, there was no difference between the two groups for asthma rates, but a 49 percent lower rate of eczema for the kids whose parents sucked on their pacifier remained.

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Lead researcher Dr. Bill Hesselmar stopped short of recommending the practice, however.

“It’s always hard to tell if it’s the only explanation, but we have tried to analyze as many other possibilities as we can think of,” he told Reuters.

Image: Kevin Fletcher/Corbis