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Children 0–2 years

Allergy awareness during pregnancy

Can a woman’s diet during pregnancy offer protection from food allergy?

Recent media hype regarding a new study linking parental nutritional intakes to genetic changes in the unborn baby has seemingly caused some confusion amongst the general public about what is a sensible approach to good nutrition during pregnancy and the key issues this study raises.

The University of Southampton study; which was a small study of approximately 300 participants, did not show cause or effect, but associations between maternal diet, epigenetic changes and childhood obesity at ages 6-9 years. Further study is needed, however results revealed possible links to a low carbohydrate diet in the first trimester.

Whilst the genomic dietary influence in unborn babies has been previously investigated, “this is the first time that susceptibility to obesity cannot simply be attributed to the combination of our genes and lifestyle, but can be triggered by influences on baby development in the womb; including what the mother ate during pregnancy”.

This reinforces the need for greater access to nutritional education and lifestyle support to increase awareness about the effects of diets during pregnancy and help improve the future health of our population.

Allergen avoidance recommendations are outdated. Avoiding commonly allergic foods such as eggs, milk, soy, fish and wheat from pregnant mothers’ diet has not been shown to reduce risk of the infant developing allergic disease and limits energy and nutritional intake unnecessarily. Such restrictions have been associated with impaired weight gain in babies. A balanced and nutritious diet is essential during pregnancy. Probiotics are not currently recommended for allergy prevention during pregnancy, however further studies are needed to clarify their potential benefits.

A lack of iodine can have significant impact upon brain development of babies both before and after birth. Without sufficient iodine we can’t produce enough thyroid hormone to keep up with needs of the growing brain; which can impact upon hearing capacity, motor and cognitive function. Learning and developmental problems are common. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can now access “Neurokare”, an iodine only tablet containing 150 micrograms of iodine which meets appropriate quality and safety standards.

Folic acid supplementation is recommended at least one month prior to conception and to continue until the end of the first trimester. This has been found to significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defect. As recommended intakes are twice the amount usually obtained by food, supplementation is essential. Folic Acid supplements of 800 micrograms are available at pharmacies or can be arranged through your GP or LMC.

For more information on the nutritional demands of pregnancy and a personal assessment contact us today.

For more recent information also read Lea’s article:
Obesity problems may start in the womb

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »

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