Q. I am eight weeks pregnant and would love to know if there’s some way to minimize the chance for allergies in my new baby. My whole family has everything from hay fever to eczema and asthma. What can I do during the next seven months to help my baby?
A. You can start while you’re pregnant. Most of the current medical literature suggests that babies can get sensitized to certain things while still in the womb. Dairy products are probably at the top of the list of sensitizers (allergens) and should be avoided if you have a strong family or personal history of allergies, asthma or eczema. I know, I know, everyone (maybe even your obstetrician) says that you need to drink milk and eat cheese to get your protein and your calcium. There are other ways of getting these vital nutrients. At the very worst, calcium needs could be met with a supplemental pill. Protein is available from beans and soy (safer than current news releases would have you believe) and fish and chicken and other very conventional sources. Vegetarians have no trouble meeting protein needs and neither do dairy-free allergy-prone pregnant moms-to-be.
Another naturally oriented trick to minimizing allergies for yourself or your baby involves eating local honey. That is, honey made by bees in your local area. This is thought to act like an allergy shot by exposing your immune system to tiny doses of local pollen and desensitizing you to allergies against the plants from which they come.
After your little sweetheart is born, continue an anti-allergy routine by avoiding dairy, eggs, peanuts, and–for those families with the biggest problems–wheat and citrus. This diet might sound a little too restrictive for most people, but, at the very least, don’t expose your baby to cow’s milk through your breastmilk.
Environmental allergens might be a little easier to avoid during the first months of life. Feather pillows and quilts cause allergies. Use synthetics when you purchase these and, of course, use no pillows or quilts at all for babies when they are sleeping away from you for safety reasons. If at all possible, have bare floors rather than carpets in the room the baby sleeps in and avoid horizontal blinds because they collect dust no matter how clean your house is.
Stuffed toys (a favorite gift!) are stuffed with heaven knows what–are you reassured by the tag that says “Stuffed With All New Material in Fredonia?”–and these toys also collect dust even in the cleanest of houses.
Get a HEPA type air filter to clean the air as much as possible and have your air conditioning and heating system cleaned by a professional before the baby’s born. There are special filters and even ultraviolet treatments to minimize mold. Mold can be a problem in any house and avoiding excessive moisture may keep it under control.