How pregnancy nutrition can reduce the risk of infant allergies
Nutrition is an essential part of a child’s development. Experts now believe that a mother’s own nutrition during pregnancy is likely to influence an unborn baby’s immune system, including whether the child may develop an allergy later in life.
Why supporting a developing immune system is important
The role of the immune system is to defend against infections and protect the body’s own cells. The immune system is a network throughout the body, and the majority of it exists in the gut.
In cases of allergy, the immune system doesn’t work as it should. The immune system overreacts to an allergen (such as a food, drug or an insect bite) and this triggers an allergic reaction such as hives, eczema, asthma or, in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
Experts now know more about how pregnancy nutrition can influence a child’s developing immune system. This means there are decisions about nutrition you can make during pregnancy to strengthen your child’s immune function and reduce the risk of them developing an allergy later in life.
What type of pregnancy diet can reduce the risk of allergies?
Experts recommend that following a non-restrictive pregnancy diet featuring Omega-3 DHA, vitamin D and foods that help to build a diverse gut flora may reduce the risk of a child developing allergies.
A non–restrictive diet
It’s important to include nuts, nut butter, fish and eggs in your pregnancy diet, unless you’re allergic yourself. A non-restrictive diet during pregnancy is important to ensure you and your baby are getting enough energy, vitamins and minerals.
Make sure your pregnancy diet includes long chain polyunsaturated Omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Where do you find these? Oily fish such as mackerel and salmon are good sources. Include 2-3 portions per week during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as there’s evidence that this may help to prevent eczema in early life. Other sources of Omega-3 DHA include nuts and seeds.
Vitamin D – getting enough sunlight
Evidence suggests that a lack of vitamin D in pregnancy may be linked with a higher prevalence of allergies. Getting the right amount of vitamin D from natural sources can be difficult – it is only available from a few foods and mostly produced in response to sunlight. If you have limited exposure to sunlight, wear a veil or have dark skin, it’s important to speak to your healthcare professional about getting your vitamin D levels tested.
Build a diverse gut flora
Building a healthy gut flora will help to support the immune system because 80% of the immune system lies within the gut. To build a healthy gut flora, include probiotics, such as probiotic-containing yoghurts, in your diet. Prebiotics are also important. They act as food for the probiotics and will help the good bacteria grow. Some good sources of prebiotics include kiwi fruit, bananas and asparagus.
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