Can mothers reduce their child's risk of getting eczema by avoiding certain foods during pregnancy and while breastfeeding?

Photo of a mother walking with her son and pushing a stroller
PantherMedia / Monkeybusiness Images

There is no proof that women can reduce their child's risk of developing by avoiding certain foods during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. So there is no reason for them to leave out foods such as eggs or milk as a precaution.

A child's risk of developing will mainly depend on the genes they have inherited. But other factors are thought to play a role too. Genes alone can't explain why has become more common over the last few decades.

Some mothers wonder whether they can protect their child from by avoiding certain foods while they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Antigens (substances that lead to allergies) can enter the child's body through the umbilical cord, or later in breast milk. But these antigens seem to only stay in the child's bloodstream for a short time.

To find out whether the diet of a pregnant or breastfeeding woman can influence her child's risk of , comparative studies are needed. In this kind of study, some of the women avoid foods that might lead to , and other women don't avoid those foods. The researchers can then see whether is less common in the children of the women who avoided the foods.

Research on avoiding certain foods

Researchers from the analyzed studies in this area. They looked at five suitable studies involving a total of about 950 women. Two of the studies involved women who were in their third trimester of pregnancy, and the other three studies involved women who were breastfeeding. All of the women and children in the studies had a higher risk of or allergic disease because it ran in their families. In one of the two studies involving breastfeeding women, the babies had already developed .

The dietary restrictions in the studies meant that the women had either very little cow's milk and eggs in their diet, or none at all. The studies involving breastfeeding mothers also left out other foods, such as nuts and fish.

Research results and recommendations

In the two studies on pregnant women, their diet wasn't found to influence the risk of their child developing . The children were observed until they reached the age of 18 months. Avoiding certain foods while breastfeeding also had no effect on the risk of developing or on the symptoms.

These results aren't very reliable, though, because there were only five studies in total, and some of them only had a small number of participants in them. To find out for sure whether mothers can lower their child's risk of by avoiding certain foods, more studies and better studies are needed.

Based on the research results so far, the professional medical societies in Germany see no reason to restrict women's diets during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. They recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women eat a balanced diet that supplies them with enough of the nutrients they need.

Garcia-Larsen V, Ierodiakonou D, Jarrold K et al. Diet during pregnancy and infancy and risk of allergic or autoimmune disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med 2018; 15(2): e1002507.

Kramer MS, Kakuma R. Maternal dietary antigen avoidance during pregnancy or lactation, or both, for preventing or treating atopic disease in the child. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; (9): CD000133.

Sidbury R, Tom WL, Bergman JN, Cooper KD, Silverman RA, Berger TG et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis: Section 4. Prevention of disease flares and use of adjunctive therapies and approaches. J Am Acad Dermatol 2014; 71(6): 1218-1233.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas. We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on February 11, 2021
Next planned update: 2024

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.