Pregnancy and Food Allergies: What This Means For You and Your Baby

Black pregnant woman eating peanut butter in kitchen
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You finally are eating for two and the excitement of having a baby is upon you. You vowed to yourself that you will do your best to stay in shape, eat the healthiest foods and follow all of your doctor's advice.  As you start to share your pregnancy news with family and friends, everyone chimes in with advice on what to eat and what to avoid.  Among the plethora of information that comes your way is advice on preventing food allergies for your unborn child.

Eggs, nuts, shrimp and soy, are among the many allergens that some say you should avoid.  

Can You Prevent Your Child From Developing Food Allergies?

With the number of cases of food allergies in babies and children on the rise, it is no wonder that what you eat during pregnancy has been a topic of great interest.  From 1997 to 2008, the incidence of food allergies in this younger population has increased by 18 percent.

For many years it was believed that if a woman avoided highly allergenic foods throughout her pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the risk of a child developing a food allergy would be reduced. The foods of greatest concern as the top allergens are  wheat, soy, cow’s milk, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and eggs.  

Recent research however has found this rationale to be untrue. In fact, there is no true evidence to support the need to avoid these foods while pregnant. Some research actually suggests that avoiding these foods in entirety may conversely increase your baby’s risks of developing food allergies after all.

  Much research is currently underway to better understand the relationship between the mother's diet and her baby’s chances of developing food allergies. 

The latest recommendations are:

  • While pregnant, it is OK to eat the highly allergenic foods, unless of course you have your own allergy to them.  
  • No proof currently supports the need to avoid these foods.
  • Removing these foods from your diet can put your unborn baby at risk for nutritional deficiencies if your diet lacks any critical nutrients.
  • When breastfeeding, it is OK to eat the highly allergenic foods, unless you have your own allergy to them.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding is believed to help ward off the development of food allergies for your baby.
  • If the baby reacts to something that you eat, then you may address avoiding that food.
  • When you introduce foods to your baby, it is OK to introduce the allergenic foods around age four to six months, being sure to discuss this timeline with your pediatrician first.
  • It is important to watch for any symptoms of a potential food allergy in your baby.  
  • Studies show that breastfed babies who are exposed to high allergen foods during childhood are less likely to develop a food allergy.
  • Children who have a parent with food allergies are more likely to develop food allergies than those whose parents do not have any at all.

    What Happens To Your Food Allergies When You Are Pregnant?

    During pregnancy, your own body's reactions to foods can change.  In fact, many women with food allergies find that during their pregnancy their allergy symptoms increase. However, many other pregnant women report that their symptoms diminish during this time. 

    Some studies suggest that allergies decrease during pregnancy due to the fact that the mother’s immune system is suppressed so that the body does not reject the unborn baby,  Others say that it is the change in hormone levels that affects the change in allergies.  

    For example, lactose intolerance (not a food allergy, but rather a food intolerance) often lessens during the latter part of pregnancy.  Studies show that for many women during the third trimester the ability to digest lactose improves, making it easier to consume calcium-rich dairy products.   This is just one example of why it is most important to pay close attention to your dietary intake along with any reactions you might experience while eating during your pregnancy.  It is critical to be in contact with your doctor should any digestive or allergic reaction occur. 

    Bottom Line: Food Allergies and Pregnancy

    For women who have previous food allergies, it is important to consult with your doctor or a nutritionist to be sure that you are able to consume a balanced diet throughout your pregnancy.  If your food allergies require you to avoid major nutrients that are essential to your baby's growth and development, additional supplementation may be necessary.  

    To date there is no real evidence that supports avoiding high allergen foods will prevent your baby from developing food allergies.  So go ahead, and take your doctor's lead about what to eat during pregnancy and how to proceed with introducing foods to your baby.  

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