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Germs and Allergies

Mom’s exposure to germs during pregnancy might protect her children from allergies

Many moms-to-be are extra careful about avoiding exposure to germs, but recent research suggests that it’s not necessary—or even beneficial—to live in a germ-free environment. Mom’s exposure to bacteria in the environment may increase her offspring’s resistance to allergies, according to the results of a study published in the December 7, 2009, issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Over the past several decades, allergies in children have become increasingly common. Some experts attribute this to an increasing tendency to keep kids squeaky clean, a theory known as the hygiene hypothesis. Many experts believe that children who are exposed to germs develop immune systems that are better able to tolerate microbes and allergens later in life. Children raised on farms, for instance, have been found to suffer fewer allergies than those raised in urban areas or non-farming rural communities. Even children raised by farming mothers are less susceptible to allergies.

In a study performed at the Phillips University of Marburg in Germany, researchers found that pregnant mice exposed to airborne barnyard microbes gave birth to allergy-resistant pups. Germ exposure during pregnancy triggered a mild inflammatory response in the mothers, which is believed to increase allergy resistance in their offspring.

While it’s always a good idea to practice good hygiene, especially during pregnancy, this study may help some moms-to-be worry a little less about the effects of everyday germ exposure.

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.