Mom Says She Boosts Baby's Immune System By Letting Him Lick Dirty Shopping Carts And Eat Sand

A young mom's admission that she lets her exclusively breastfed 8-month-old put whatever he likes in his mouth—because she believes it benefits his immune system—has fired up debate. Here's what experts say.

Every parent has their own unique way of letting their baby explore the world around them. For 22-year-old Alice Bender, who posts on TikTok under the name comingupfern, that involves allowing her 8-month-old to put his mouth on whatever he likes, whether that's a handful of sand or a shopping cart. Bender's admission has lit up a fiery debate around how to best protect babies from germs and illness.

This isn't the first time Bender has voiced an eyebrow-raising opinion on the social platform. She previously talked about the fact that babies shouldn't have bedtimes or sleep in cribs. And in the latest April 19 TikTok, the mom says she lets her little one eat sticks, rocks, dirt, sand, and lick unsanitized shopping carts.

She then shows clips of her child, Fern, sitting by a lake and putting sand and rocks in his mouth. The reason: The mom says exposing her baby to germs will help him actually build his immune system. And she says that because he's exclusively breastfed and breast milk is "the original medicine," he's protected against illness.

"I trust nature and my baby," said Bender in the clip. "Our milk is there to protect them while they build their immune system."

Research has shown that breast milk can influence a baby's immune system development. Studies show that breastfed babies do get fewer ear infections, upper respiratory illnesses, and gastrointestinal bugs, points out Dyan Hes, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician and medical director for Gramercy Pediatrics in New York. But it doesn't protect a child from every potential health issue.

"Breast milk certainly does provide some level of antibody protection," says Amna Husain, M.D., FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician and founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics in New Jersey. "It provides a certain type of antibodies known as immunoglobulin A."

But kids also need longer-lasting antibody protection from immunoglobulin G, which is transferred from mom to baby via placenta. "These will fade by 6 months of age, which allows from a bridging time between maternal antibodies fading from the bloodstream and baby making their own antibodies after vaccination," explains Dr. Husain.

In other words, just because a baby is breastfed doesn't mean they can't get sick. For this reason, Dr. Hes warns parents against encouraging their children to lick whatever they like on the playground or grocery store and eating sand or dirt, which could contain parasites, worms, or pesticides. "The likelihood is that ultimately your baby will catch something or lick something poisonous," she notes.

No one's saying you have to keep your baby in a sterile bubble, which both experts agree isn't best for children either. But it's important to set a boundary with nondigestible non-food items, which Dr. Hes says can produce a bezoar, an obstruction in the digestive tract that can lead to nausea, vomiting, ulcers, and weight loss.

Dr. Husain agrees, noting, "I would not encourage a breastfed infant to eat sticks, rocks, or dirt. It is unsafe to be eating these items. Sticks and rocks can be choking hazards, and dirt can carry other parasitic infections, which breastfeeding alone would not address."

The bottom line: The science around babies' developing immune systems is complex. While TikTok might be filled with hot takes from parents like Bender, it's clear that parents would do best to err on the side of expert advice and caution.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles