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Could Stress during Pregnancy be Related to Allergies in children?

Posted Aug 24 2008 5:22pm
Some interesting articles came across my Google alerts recently. There are some researchers looking into the possibility that stress during pregnancy may be related to the development of allergies and asthma in children. A small study was done, and it seems that stress can affect the immune system and cause increased IgE levels. They measured the IgE levels of the mother and the cord blood taken at birth. This was then factored in with information about the mother’s lifestyle and environment. The result being that there may be a correlation between pre-natal stress and allergies. Here is the link to the article.

Our food allergic children have higher levels of IgE antibodies, which cause them to have allergic reactions to certain foods. It seems reasonable to me that if the mother has increased IgE levels, regardless of the cause, that she could pass it into her infant.

I found this theory very interesting and started thinking about my own experiences. I thought about the differences in my three pregnancies and the allergies in my three children. We do have allergy genes in my family, so we do have a predisposition for allergies.

My first pregnancy was normal. I had an average amount of stress for someone expecting their first child. I loved being pregnant and did not have any complications. My eldest K. had a mild milk allergy as an infant that was outgrown by the time she was two. She has no other food allergies. At the age of six she did develop environmental allergies to tree pollen, dust, mold, ragweed and cats. This has caused some complications with ear infections and a ruptured ear drum, but otherwise is manageable.

My second pregnancy was fairly normal. I would say that my stress level was higher. At work I had been promoted to a position with more responsibility. This also required more travel. My husband's company was also going through some changes. This left his employment future a little uncertain. With one child and another on the way, unemployment is that last thing you need to worry about. Thankfully everything eventually worked out for him. Many of you know, being pregnant with a toddler at home is more challenging that your first pregnancy. You can not sleep after work or on the weekends like before. My middle boy R. is highly allergic to peanuts. At the age of 4, he also developed environmental allergies to dust, tree pollen, cats, and ragweed.

My third pregnancy was my most stressful. I had been promoted at work again, I loved my new position, but it was more responsibility, travel and stress. I also had a new boss, whom I liked a lot, but made my head spin! I really think she had some ADD issues. It was non stop go go go. I was due at the end of September and the summer was always our busiest most stressful time of the year. After a very difficult 2 weeks and working many extra hours, I went into pre term labor at 32 weeks. It was intense and scary – I really did not know if they would be able to stop it. Fortunately modern medicine was able to buy me some time. I was immediately put on bed rest and had to take medication every 4 hours to keep from having contractions. Since there were a couple of projects I had not finished, I continued to do a little work from home. At 36 weeks the doctor said it was safe to deliver and I could stop taking my medication if I wanted. Since we had family coming to visit I thought it would be a perfect time to deliver, so I stopped the meds. My baby boy was born 3 days later! C. is allergic to wheat, egg, peanut, tree nut, peas, banana, sesame, and coconut. This spring he developed environmental allergies to tree pollen, grass, ragweed, mold, and dogs.

If you take a look at my experiences and compare it to this new theory, perhaps they could be on to something. It is hard to say for sure – there are many variables. This is not to discount other theories, including the hygiene theory, which also seems very logical to me. Who knows if they will ever definitively determine the cause of food allergies? I am just glad that there are doctors out there looking for answers.

I do not think I could have done anything differently to reduce my stress. Sometimes the circumstances just are what they are. Stress is a hard thing to control these days. Especially with how busy we are trying to have it all and do it all. There are a myriad of reasons that stress is not good for us. We all need to do whatever we can to take care of ourselves – mind, body and spirit.
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