Protecting Baby: Can allergies be prevented?
Allergies in Pregnancy
Questions first arise during pregnancy, when a mother-to-be in a family with allergies starts to think about the food she eats and the effect on her fetus. She is likely to wonder: will succumbing to late-night cravings for peanut butter cups mean my child will be burdened with anaphylaxis to that legume? It’s still common for general practitioners to counsel pregnant patients to avoid highly allergenic foods in the last trimester. But there is a gulf between that advice and what scientists in the know believe is necessary.
For instance, Cyr says, “There’s little evidence that avoiding nuts or allergenic foods in pregnancy is helpful. A lot of people still say it. We don’t have evidence that says it’s harmful.”
So little has been proven definitively that perhaps even the precautions an expecting mother takes to minimize the risk of allergy – such as avoiding peanuts – might in fact make the fetus more susceptible. “It is possible that avoiding peanuts is harmful,” says Cyr, an investigator working with AllerGen, the federally funded allergy research network. Peanut exposure might actually mitigate against allergy. The fact is, scientists do not yet know.
The New Mother’s Questions:
Q: If my baby has eczema, does this mean she will develop asthma or a food allergy?
A: Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an indication of the tendency to develop allergy (known as atopy). While the itchy rash doesn’t guarantee that your child will develop food allergies or asthma, this condition indicates there is a much higher chance of either.
Q: If there are only environmental allergies in our family, is my baby at risk of developing food allergies?
A: Yes. Allergic disease is hereditary and can manifest itself in one (or all) of: hayfever, eczema, asthma and food allergies.
Q: Can I use my EpiPen if I have an allergic reaction while pregnant?
A: Yes. One obstetrician put it bluntly: “It’s better for the baby if you’re not dead.” Dr. Michael Cyr reminds that, “in a life-threatening reaction, use it right away.”
First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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