Should birthday candles be banned in childcare centres?

I ate a lizard when I was a toddler. Or was it a cockroach? Let's say it was a lizard, way less gross. Whatever it was, it didn't do me any harm. I can't remember the last time I went to the doctor. (I think it was when I grew a unicorn horn on my head – my youngest's diagnosis, it turned out to be psoriasis. Again, I like the first explanation better.)

So I'm a tad underwhelmed by strict new National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines banning children from blowing out the candles on their birthday cakes and requiring them to use hand sanitiser before and after playing in sandpits at childcare centres.

"Children love to blow out their candles while their friends are singing 'Happy birthday'," the document says.

"To prevent the spread of germs when the child blows out the candles, parents should either provide a separate cupcake, with a candle if they wish, for the birthday child and (either) enough cupcakes for all the other children … (or) a large cake that can be cut and shared."

AMA president Steve Hambleton has blasted the guidelines as being too germ-phobic.  

"Just wash your hands before you eat," he says. "It's normal and healthy to be exposed to a certain amount of environmental antigens that build up our immune systems. If you live in a plastic bubble you're going to get infections (later in life) that you can't handle."

I'm with Steve. When my daughter was 10 months old, sand was her favourite food. She shovelled handfuls of the stuff into her mouth whenever she got the chance. If I'd rubbed hand sanitiser all over her every time I'd be bankrupt.

Sure, I'd prefer she hadn't eaten sand – and that I hadn't eaten a lizard/cockroach – but it's part of being a kid. It's a rite of passage. So is catching a few colds in childcare centres. You'd prefer it didn't happen but – hopefully – it means your child will get sick less later on as a result.

And science backs me up.

A 2002 study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine showed that kids in large daycares (with more than six children) had almost twice as many colds at age two, but a third as many colds at age six, compared to those at home or in small daycares.

And a study published last year in the journal Science found mice raised in sterile environments developed more severe symptoms of asthma or colitis than their germ-exposed counterparts.

“We as a species are not exposed to the same germs that we were exposed to in the past,” concluded study co-author Dennis Kasper, a microbiologist at Harvard Medical School.

So wash toys, doorknobs, floors and cushion covers in childcare centres every day – one of the NHMRC's other new guidelines – that's common sense. But don't take all the fun out of being a kid. How can your birthday wishes come true if you don't blow out the candles on your cake?

What are your thoughts?

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