What effect does diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding have on a child's risk of developing eczema?

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

There are no signs that not eating certain foods during pregnancy of while breastfeeding can influence the risk of eczema for the mother's child. So there is no reason to leave out foods such as eggs or milk as a precaution.

Genes are the main determining factor in whether a child gets eczema. But it is also assumed that there are other factors because genetic factors alone can't account for the increase in the number of children with eczema in recent decades.

Some mothers wonder whether they can protect their child from eczema by not eating certain foods while they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Antigens (substances that can trigger allergies) can be transferred to the child through the umbilical cord, or later in breast milk. These antigens apparently only remain in the child's bloodstream for a short time, though.

Comparative studies are needed to find out whether the mother's diet can influence her child's risk of eczema. When some of the study participants eat foods that possibly cause eczema and others don't, researchers can test whether the children of the women who didn't eat the foods develop eczema less often.

Research on not eating certain foods

Researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration analyzed studies in this area. They looked at five suitable studies involving a total of about 950 women. Two of the studies involved women in their third trimester, and the other three included women who were breastfeeding. All of the women and children involved in the studies had a higher risk of eczema or allergic disease. The infants in one of the studies involving breastfeeding mothers already had eczema.

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

Study results and recommendations

The two studies on pregnant women didn't show any effect of the food on the later risk of the child developing eczema. The children were observed until they reached the age of 18 months. Not eating certain foods while breastfeeding also had no effect on the risk of eczema or the symptoms.

These results are not very reliable, because there were only five studies with a relatively low number of participants. More and better studies are needed to be more sure about whether the child's risk of eczema can be lowered by not eating certain foods.

Based on the research results so far, the professional associations 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 the nutrients they need.