There is no tried and tested method to ensure that a child is born without allergies, or to prevent them developing them later on.
It’s heartbreaking to find out your baby has severe food allergies and I think most parents would jump at the chance to try and avoid subsequent children going through the same thing.
We think that our daughter has inherited our allergic tendencies, I have very mild eczema and I am occasionally allergic to new skin products and perfumes (I haven’t determined the exact ingredient causing the problem) and cat hair. Anya’s father’s hayfever has improved ten fold since we moved away from London.
My eldest daughter is now 4 and is allergic to dairy, eggs, cats and dogs and more recently pineapple (at least that is easy to avoid). My youngest daughter is nearly 2 and is allergic to… well, nothing!
How did I achieve this amazing feat? The answer is ‘I have no idea’, I made changes in what I ate during pregnancy, what I ate when I breastfed and how I weaned her in comparison to her sister, but I have no idea for certain if any of what I did made any difference and that if I did none of these things would she still have been the same?
The main thing I did do in the time before she was born was read as much as I could on the subject and at the very least this is something that everyone hoping to avoid a second, third, etc. multiple allergic child can do. From the reading I came up with a plan and that at the very least felt better than doing nothing.
My three point plan for my youngest was flexible and most importantly, for anyone thinking of giving it a go, was completely safe for both me and baby, changes to the plan will definitely need to be made if you yourself have any food allergies.
Stage One – Pregnancy
Try to eat a well balanced diet in pregnancy as best you can, I know a lot of us suffer from severe sickness and I most certainly did with both of my daughters. Due to sickness, which lasted until 3 days after my children are born, I had a very poor diet through both pregnancies, but in the second I really persevered and when I fancied a milkshake, I went and got one. My eldest daughter is allergic to dairy and eggs, so I made sure that I had plenty of these things in my diet, in theory this is exposing the foetus to allergens in small proportions.
Research suggests that for mothers with allergies exposure of allergens in small doses is key. If you are intolerant to something that one of your children is allergic to it is thought that if you can stand to eat it in very small occasional amounts that will reduce the likelihood of your next child being allergic to that food.
This is of course with the exception of peanuts – the proteins seem to follow a different set of rules and can cause problems for those that eat them in pregnancy (see links at the bottom of the page).
I would strongly not recommend eating anything in pregnancy that could damage the health of you and/or your child in pregnancy!
Finally, in pregnancy many of us struggle with indigestion in the final trimester – remember to read packets and only buy antacids that are recommended in pregnancy; the awful tasting gaviscon is unfortunately fine. There are a lot of interesting studies on antacids in pregnancy and allergy links and there have been some suggestions that daily use of them in pregnancy can lower the allergen level in the stomach which can lead to food hypersensitivities (links at the bottom of the page).
I used a lot of generic antacids towards the middle of my first pregnancy and then gaviscon towards the end. After reading the studies on antacids I tried to use gaviscon minimally in my second pregnancy and drank milk instead, which is a more natural way of calming the stomach (unless of course you are allergic to milk!)
Stage Two – Breastfeeding (for those that can and do)
After my eldest daughter was born I managed 9 months of breastfeeding and had a varied, if not altogether healthy, diet! Her eczema developed at a couple of months old. Once I had given up breastfeeding her eczema improved to the point of non-existence at times.
With my second I only managed 6 months of breastfeeding due to the stress of having 2 children who didn’t sleep.
There was definitely a difference in my diet the second time, I kept the offending allergens in my diet, but at lower levels, so I avoided high CMP foods (cow’s milk protein) like ice cream and full fat milk and ate more yoghurt, soft cheeses and baked milk and eggs (valid reason to eat more cake).
At this stage my youngest had none of the first signs of food allergy, she was eczema free, she had a bit of cradle cap, but it was pale and not infected. She had some bad nappies that I would have previously linked to food allergies, but I put them down to days when she was ill from teething.
For mothers who are not able to breastfeed if your other child (or children) has problems with dairy it might be beneficial to move them straight onto a formula which has partially or extensively hydrolysed milk protein in them. These are generally called ‘Comfort’ formulas. Hydrolysed means that the milk proteins are broken down partially, so will be OK for all but the most allergic of children.
Stage Three – Weaning
Anya was exactly 5 months old when I weaned her, I used breastmilk to make up the baby rice on that first day and everything was fine. On the second day I used a popular baby formula to make up the rice and we ended up in hospital after her face swelled and that was when she was diagnosed with CMPA (Cows Milk Protein Allergy). It took weeks for the prescription milk to be arranged, so in the meantime I stopped solids.
With my youngest I weaned way after she was 6 months old, I chose food groups that my eldest had no issues with. I didn’t give her egg until she was 1 (even in cake and biscuits) and although she was moved onto formula at 6 months as well she seemed to be fine with it. She didn’t have ice-cream until she was 18 months old and didn’t really eat cheese until she was 9 months old.
I also weaned late on all foods that Anya had previous issues with, so tomato, swede, pineapple and mango
At the time of writing she is 22 months old and I feel she has no issues with food allergy (maybe a slight intolerance to dairy if she eats too much).
Can we control whether our next child will be allergic or not?
The answer is, we don’t know, yet! We are learning more about allergies year by year.
CAN Research Group
If you are interested in helping with allergy research you can like the CAN Research Group page on Facebook and share our updates or join us in the closed group and complete monthly surveys on a range of topics all related to allergies.
Update on allergies in pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood, 2009
Investigating the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet in pregnant women for the primary prevention of asthma and allergy in high-risk infants: protocol for a pilot randomised controlled trial, 2012
Vitamin D (25OHD) Serum Seasonality in the United States, 2013
Timing of allergy-preventive and immunomodulatory dietary interventions – are prenatal, perinatal or postnatal strategies optimal? 2013
The EuroPrevall birth cohort study on food allergy: baseline characteristics of 12,000 newborns and their families from nine European countries, 2012
Childhood Immune Maturation and Allergy Development: Regulation by Maternal Immunity and Microbial Exposure, 2011
NEWS AND VIEWS: Government advice revised – early life exposure to peanut no longer a risk factor for peanut allergy, 2010
Consumption of vegetables, fruit, and antioxidants during pregnancy and wheeze and eczema in infants, 2010
Anti-acid medication as a risk factor for food allergy, 2010
Maternal dietary antigen avoidance during pregnancy or lactation, or both, for preventing or treating atopic disease in the child, 2012
Asthma, allergy and respiratory infections: the vitamin D hypothesis, 2011