Actress Beverley Mitchell (remember her? she played Lucy Camden on the TV show 7th Heaven) announced she is expecting a baby girl in April, and she’s blogging about her pregnancy on People.com.
In her first post she mentioned that her food allergies to yogurt, eggs, and cheese have gone away and she can now happily munch on things she hasn’t had in years, like pizza!
I had no idea that pregnancy could affect allergies, so I decided to find out more.
Turns out, Mitchell’s situation is not uncommon and many pregnant women find they can eat foods they had problems digesting in the past, says Sandra Hong, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
However, what Mitchell experienced is more accurately described as a food intolerance rather than a true food allergy.
“Food intolerances are when people do not tolerate certain foods for various reasons, such as a lactose intolerance, which is caused by a low level of enzyme to break down lactose that is ingested,” Dr. Hong told me. “Food intolerances are not life threatening.”
An intolerance affects the ability to digest a food and explains why people who are lactose intolerant may have to run to the bathroom after eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
Food allergies on the other hand, are more serious.
“A food allergy occurs when a person develops an IgE antibody to a particular protein found in foods. The common foods causing food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and seafoods, soy, and wheat,” says Dr. Hong. “If a person has this IgE antibody and they come in contact with the food they are allergic to, they can have an immediate life threatening anaphylactic reaction.”
Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction with symptoms such as shortness of breath, facial swelling, hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a sensation that you want to pass out, and low blood pressure, says Dr. Hong.
While it is possible for food intolerances to fluctuate (like during pregnancy), that’s less likely with food allergies. So if you are truly allergic to a food, don’t expect pregnancy to be a safe time to eat it!
So how can you tell if you have a food intolerance or food allergy? Your doctor can perform a blood or skin test to help accurately diagnose the difference.
If it’s an allergy, it’s potentially dangerous to try to eat the food during pregnancy. “If a mother is truly allergic to a food, it can be life threatening for both herself and the fetus if she ingests the food and has an anaphylactic reaction,” she says.
But with careful eating habits, food allergies don’t have to be a great threat to your pregnancy. And if like Mitchell, your lactose intolerance has subsided, go ahead and treat yourself to a chocolate milkshake!