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If you’re a germaphobe mom, chances are you have a strict “no thumb sucking” policy. There’s no telling how many dirty places your kids’ hands have been. Plus, isn’t it bad for their teeth or something? But a new study may turn you into a proponent.

A recent report in the U.S. journal Pediatrics cites new research coming out of New Zealand about a big potential benefit of thumb sucking. According to the study, which looked at the oral practices of more than 1,000 children from birth to adulthood, the habit might actually reduce children's risk of developing certain allergies. The theory is that early and consistent exposure to germs and microbes can actually help strengthen the immune system and protect against overreaction to things like pets, grass and dust mites.

Skin-prick tests (which reveal reactions to 40 different substances) to identify allergy sufferers yielded interesting results: 49 percent of non-thumb-sucking subjects developed some type of allergy, while only 31 percent of thumb-suckers (or nail biters) did.

The study’s author cautions moms against guiding dirty thumbs straight to the mouths of their babes but does encourage new parents to let their guards down just a bit. And, hey, if you’ve already got a thumb-sucker on your hands, might as well embrace it.

Related: There’s Actually a Scientific Reason Why Babies Smell So Great

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