Food Allergies and Pregnancy
Do You Have a Food Allergy?
If you suspect you may have a food allergy or intolerance, the first thing you should do is start keeping a food diary. Both Dr. Fenster and Dr. Atkins believe that keeping a food diary not only helps you track which foods are causing reactions, but it also gives your doctor the necessary information to suggest treatment. “Write down what food you ate and how you felt immediately afterwards, then five minutes, and then a couple of hours later,” says Dr. Fenster. Some reactions can occur several hours after you’ve eaten a culprit food.
Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if you feel your doctor doesn’t understand your concerns. “There’s no drug to treat food allergies, no pharmacy to visit for medication,” cautions Dr. Fenster. “So some doctors are still reluctant to diagnosis food allergies or even recognize them.” Ask friends or check the information board at your local health food store for other people with food allergies. They might be able to recommend a doctor, or, more appropriately according to Dr. Fenster, a nutritionist to help you manage your food allergies.
If you think you may have a food allergy, your doctor might suggest a skin-prick test, where a small amount of the food allergen is injected under the skin to detect a reaction. A blood test may be another route of testing. In this case, a sample is sent to a laboratory where tests are done to determine whether the blood contains IgE antibodies to suspect foods. Neither test poses any risk to your baby. Allergists may also suggest an elimination diet where the patient cuts out certain foods and then reintroduces them to gauge reactions. Dr. Atkins, however, advises against food allergy testing during pregnancy unless a woman has a severe reaction to a certain food.
Dealing with Food Allergies
No one knows for sure if food allergies worsen during pregnancy. Some doctors believe that allergy symptoms lessen overall during pregnancy because a woman’s immune system is suppressed so that her body doesn’t reject her unborn baby. There have been no specific studies to suggest whether this is valid or not. Most food allergy sufferers learn how to manage their symptoms on their own so they don’t report problems—good, bad, or otherwise—to their obstetrician. Broadhead says that she noticed her food allergy symptoms increase during pregnancy. Moreover, she had adverse reactions to eggs while she was nursing. “I didn’t say anything to my doctor, though,” admits Broadhead. “He’d probably think I was crazy.”
So, how should you treat food allergies while you’re expecting? Strict avoidance. If you know that you are allergic to certain foods, make sure to avoid them. Dr. Fenster advises constant vigilance during pregnancy to avoid problems. “Be wary of restaurants and ask about ingredients,” she adds. Read food labels carefully. Dr. Fenster admits that you may have cravings—especially for that forbidden food. Make meals ahead of time and freeze them so that when the cravings hit you have something to eat that will satisfy your hunger and won’t cause an allergic reaction.
If you have any concerns about foods that may be giving you problems—severe or slight—talk to your obstetrician or midwife. You may wish to have them recommend a nutritionist to help you evaluate your diet. It’s never a bad idea to review your diet, especially during your pregnancy to ensure that both you and your baby are getting all of the nutrients you both need to stay healthy.
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