Q: Does diet during pregnancy affect the development of allergic diseases in children?

Angela Hogan, MD: Three factors are involved in the development of allergic disease:

  • Family history (genetics)
  • Exposure to allergens
  • Environmental conditions

When considering the mother’s diet during pregnancy, expectant moms do not have to avoid certain foods.

The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes there is a lack of evidence to suggest avoidance diets during pregnancy are helpful in preventing allergic disease. That means pregnant women don’t need to avoid peanut, milk, wheat (gluten) or other food allergens.

The most important thing expectant moms can do is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables – especially if the mom has a history of allergic disease. Eating a balanced diet is most helpful in preventing allergic disease.

Q: Are there certain foods pregnant women can eat to help prevent allergic disease?

Dr. Hogan: When expectant moms eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, it can decrease the risk of allergic disease in the child. This appears to be especially true if 1) the expectant mom has asthma, and 2) the child is male.

Foods that are high omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Oysters
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Fortified foods (certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk)

Maternal diets that are rich in vitamin D can also reduce the risk of asthma and food allergy in children.

Foods that are high in vitamin D include:

  • Dairy products
  • Fish
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Vitamin D-enriched foods (orange juice, soy milk, cereal)

The bottom line is this: expectant moms can manipulate their diet during pregnancy by eating more omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D. This may improve their odds of having a less allergic child.

Be sure to talk with your obstetrician or an allergist before adjusting your diet during pregnancy.

Angela Hogan, MD, FACAAI, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia. She is also Professor of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Dr. Hogan is a member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

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