Eating nuts during pregnancy

I will remember my first obstetrician for two things: one, that she was not on call the night I went into labor, which made me panic, and two, that at every single prenatal visit, she reminded me to eat plenty of peanut butter sandwiches on whole-wheat bread. “Full of protein,” I remember her saying, “and plenty of fiber, too.”

That was more than 20 years ago. Recent reports on a new study warn that regular consumption of nut products during pregnancy could raise the odds of having a child with asthma symptoms by nearly 50 percent.

For expectant mothers in the study who ate nut products every day, researchers found a much higher chance that their offspring would have wheezing symptoms or shortness of breath in comparison to the offspring of the mothers who rarely ate nuts. The need for steroids (through the use of inhalers, etc.) was 62 percent higher among children whose mothers said they had eaten nuts on a daily basis during pregnancy.

We know childhood asthma and allergies are on the rise. Could an expectant mother’s diet affect her baby in utero and lead to allergies or asthma down the road?

The tendency to develop allergies stems from a combination of genetics and environment, says Levente Erdos, M.D., of Arizona Asthma and Allergy Institute. “Women should, of course, avoid foods they are allergic to while pregnant,” he adds, “but not as a prevention measure.”

Erdos questions the validity of this particular study. “This has been a highly studied area with much conflicting data and controversy,” he says. “As such, there are no established guidelines recommending food avoidance during pregnancy to decrease the risk of developing allergies or asthma in children.”

Share concerns you have about nuts, or any other possible allergens, with your physician. For expectant mothers who do suffer from asthma, the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology recommends careful medical management and avoidance of known triggers. Uncontrolled asthma is risky for both the mother and the baby and has the potential to cause serious complications in pregnancy.

Other allergy tips for expectant and new moms:

  • Avoid shellfish during pregnancy and don’t introduce nuts into a child’s diet during the first year, says CIGNA pediatrician Lakshmi Naidu, M.D., who reminds parents about another risk associated with nuts and nut butters: choking. “It’s a huge concern,” she says.
  • The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that babies be fed only breast milk or formula for the first six months, delaying solids until that time.

Talk with your doctor if you have a family history of asthma or allergies, recommends Naidu.