The recent confirmation that British Lion eggs can be eaten runny, or even raw, by vulnerable groups is good news for pregnant women and their babies – and a number of recent research papers have highlighted the potential benefits to babies’ health if their mothers eat eggs during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.
A study at Cornell University showed that if mothers eat sufficient choline – a nutrient found in eggs – during pregnancy, their babies’ cognitive development and intelligence may be improved. Similar results have previously been found in rodent experiments and although the sample numbers in the Cornell study were small, it is hoped that further research will help determine future recommendations on choline intake in pregnancy.
A joint statement from two Government committees this month has also confirmed that mothers should be encouraged not to delay introducing eggs when weaning, as giving eggs to babies between 6-12 months of age can help protect them against developing egg allergy.
Two further studies also suggested that mothers who eat eggs when breastfeeding may help protect their babies against future egg allergy.
Dr Juliet Gray, Registered Nutritionist, comments: ‘We know that giving eggs to babies early in the weaning process – from around 6 months - may help protect the baby against future egg allergy, but there has been little information on the effect of breastfeeding on the development of food allergies later in childhood.’
The first study[i] investigated how mothers’ egg consumption during early breastfeeding influences egg protein (ovalbumin) levels in human breastmilk and whether this influences sensitivity or tolerance to eggs in their babies. The researchers found that increased egg consumption in the mothers was associated with increased breastmilk ovalbumin, and this appeared to increase immune tolerance in the babies, suggesting a reduced risk of subsequent allergy to eggs.
The research team in the second[ii] study showed that pregnant and breastfeeding mice exposed through the skin barrier to egg protein (ovalbumin) transferred protective antibodies to their babies through their breastmilk and that the babies showed a smaller allergic response when challenged with egg protein.
[i] Metcalf et al. (2016)
Clin Exp Allergy. 2016 Dec;46(12):1605-1613. doi: 10.1111/cea.12806. Epub 2016 Oct 7.
[ii] Ohsaki et al. (2017) doi: 10.1084/jem.20171163 http://jem.rupress.org/content/early/2017/11/17/jem.20171163