If you have a food allergy or food intolerance, or you want to know if there is anything you can do to reduce the risk of your baby developing allergies, we have some information for you in this section.

Food allergy and food intolerance

If you have a medically diagnosed food allergy, or are excluding foods due to a food intolerance, you should ensure that you are getting the required nutrients you need while you are pregnant.

It’s important to note that food intolerances and particularly food allergies in adults are much less common than people think. People may self–report that they have a food allergy or intolerance but figures for people with allergy or intolerance using scientifically recognised diagnostic tests are much lower than self-reported figures. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines advise against the use of “alternative” test kits, available online and in some shops. NICE says there is little evidence that these work and can lead to unnecessary restrictive diets. So, you should speak to your health professional if you think you may have a food allergy or intolerance, before changing your diet.

What are the most common food allergies?

Common foods causing food allergies include milk, egg, peanuts, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat and soya. All of these foods have to be labelled if present or added to any food.

How likely is it that my baby will develop a food allergy? 

Food allergy is relatively rare, affecting an estimated 1-2% of adults in the UK. Food allergy appears to be slightly more common in young children, with an estimated 6–8 % of children under 3 years old having a proven food allergy. Many children outgrow their allergies to milk or eggs, but a peanut allergy is often life-long.

If I have a food allergy, is my child more likely to develop one?

Babies are more likely to develop an allergy if a parent or sibling has a medically-diagnosed allergy (such as eczema, asthma, hayfever or food allergy). Your baby will also have a higher risk of developing a peanut allergy if they have another medically-diagnosed allergy (such as eczema or another food allergy).

Breast milk provides the ideal nourishment for newborns. European, American and international academic and health groups strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months with introduction of complementary foods no earlier than 4-6 months as the hallmark for allergy prevention. If you're not breastfeeding, ask your doctor for advice on what kind of formula to give your baby.

Can I help reduce the risk of my baby developing an allergy in pregnancy?

Restricting your diet during pregnancy has not been proven to be effective in allergy prevention. For example, there is little evidence that avoiding milk, egg or other potential allergens during pregnancy reduces the risk of eczema or asthma in infants. In addition, restricting your diet during pregnancy may negatively impact upon your and /or your baby’s nutrition.

There has been some research looking at intakes of particular nutrients during pregnancy with the reduction in the risk of allergies in the offspring. Vitamin D, omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and folate (or the synthetic form, folic acid) have received quite a lot of attention. However, the results of these studies are inconclusive and further evidence is required to clarify whether increased intake of these nutrients during pregnancy helps to reduce the risk of your baby developing an allergy. In the light of current evidence, there is no recommendation to increase consuming these nutrients to prevent allergic disease in your baby. However, these essential nutrients each have important roles in the development of your growing baby, and should therefore be included in your diet during pregnancy.

There has also been a suggestion that consuming probiotics during pregnancy may reduce the risk of your child developing a food allergy. However, the evidence to support this is of low quality and most European and international guidelines make no specific recommendations about the use of probiotics in pregnant women.

I have heard some pregnant women avoid peanuts to prevent peanut allergies in their children.

Is there any benefit or truth to this?

Current government advice states that if mothers would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts during pregnancy or breastfeeding, then they can choose to do so as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless they are allergic to peanuts themselves. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that exposure of common allergens whilst in the womb or through the breastmilk may reduce the risk of a child developing an allergy.

I have a food allergy.

How can I make sure I’m getting the right nutrients for me and my baby?

If you are avoiding certain foods due to your own medically diagnosed food allergies and are concerned you may not be getting all the nutrients you need during pregnancy then you should speak to your midwife or doctor. Depending on your allergies, you may be referred to a dietitian to help support you in your choices of alternative foods which will provide you with the nutrients you and your baby need.

 

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact postbox@nutrition.org.uk

Last reviewed June 2015. Next review due June 2018.