Does having a family history of allergy affect your pregnancy?
Food allergies happen when the immune system overreacts to a particular food, and they affect around 1-2% of adults and 2-8% of children in the UK. Allergies have a genetic link, which means they can be passed down through families. The likelihood of your child developing an allergy increases by 6-8% (NICE 2011) if parents or siblings have allergies; but genetics alone are not the sole cause of allergies and other factors such as the environment we live in appears to have an influence.
Parents with food allergies are often concerned about ‘passing on’ allergies to their children, but it's important to remember that even a child with no family history of allergies has a 20% risk of developing one.
Allergies and Pregnancy
Mums-to-be, rest easy: there's no evidence that anything you do whilst pregnant will ‘cause’ your child to develop an allergy. There is also no evidence that the foods you eat (or don’t eat) when pregnant will cause (or prevent) your baby from developing an allergy in later life.
The Government used to advise pregnant women with a family history of allergies to avoid eating peanuts, as they thought this might increase the risk of a peanut allergy in the baby. However, this has now been proven not to be true, so go ahead and enjoy a bit of peanut butter if you're craving it!
There's also no reason to avoid foods your baby's father is allergic to. Instead, the most important thing you can do for your baby when pregnant is to eat healthily and safely, taking into account the best foods to eat during pregnancy and the foods to avoid.
If you have a food allergy
If you have a food allergy yourself, then of course you should continue to avoid this food whilst pregnant. If you have multiple allergies that restrict your diet considerably, you may want to see a dietitian to help design a balanced pregnancy eating plan that will give your baby all the necessary nutrients.
If you have a history of allergies in your family, then breastfeeding your baby for at least the first six months will help your baby to develop a healthy immune system, which may help ward off allergies later on.