Probiotics in pregnancy may reduce the risk of eczema in children

Previous evidence has suggested that probiotics (‘friendly’ gut bacteria) given to pregnant women at risk of having children with atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema), and then their infants, seems to reduce the incidence of eczema in the children.  A recently published study in the British Journal of Dermatology (1) took place to examine whether probiotic supplements given to non-select pregnant women (not just those at risk of having a child with eczema) could prevent eczema in the child’s first two years. 


In the study (1) women received a probiotic milk or placebo (milk which did not contain probiotics) from 36 weeks of pregnancy to three months postnatally during breastfeeding (all the mothers breastfed their children). The probiotic milk contained the probiotic strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus La-5 and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis Bb-12. Children with an itchy rash for more than four weeks were assessed for eczema.  After two years of age, all the children were assessed for various conditions such as atopic dermatitis, asthma and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.  The results showed that children of the women who drank the probiotic milk during and after their pregnancy had a 40% reduced incidence of eczema.

The results showed that probiotic bacteria reduced the incidence of eczema in children up to age two years by 40 percent. And the kids in ‘probiotics group’ who did have eczema, had less severe cases,” explains Christian Kvikne Dotterud, a student in the Medical Student Research Programme at the Department of Community Medicine at NTNU (2).

The study was conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  it is part of a larger research project at the university called the Prevention of Allergy Among Children in Trondheim, or PACT, an ongoing population-based intervention study in Norway focused on childhood allergy (2).

One of the study researchers said (2)Our study is the first to show that certain probiotic bacteria given to the mother during pregnancy and breast-feeding prevents eczema,”. Previous studies have shown that probiotics taken by pregnant mothers and then by their children may prevent eczema, but this is the first study to show a preventative effect when the mother alone consumed the probiotics.  It is thought that the probiotic bacteria, taken by the mothers, affects the composition of breast milk in a positive way.

The researchers of this study used a variety of strains of probiotics.  In the press release they say “There is reason to believe that it is beneficial for your health to consume a variety of bacterial strains with documented efficacy, rather than unilateral influence of only one bacterial strain”.  One of the strains of bacteria used in the probiotic milk drink was  LGG ®, (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG)  which is currently the probiotic bacteria that are most extensively studied and researched in terms of human health in the world.  It has been shown that LGG ® contributes to good gut function and a stronger defense against unwanted bacteria and viruses in the stomach. At present there are more than 500 published articles on LGG ® in international journals and more than 30 doctoral theses have been completed on LGG’s ® effect on health. More than 40 countries in different parts of the world market products with LGG ® (2).  The probiotic milk also a contained a strain of Bifidobacteria, which have also been used in numerous research studies.

Evidence is continually accumulating for the use of probiotics (and prebiotics) for health.  It is important to talk to your doctor or midwife before beginning any supplement regimen during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

(1) C. K. Dotterud CK et al.  2010.  Probiotics in pregnant women to prevent allergic disease: a randomised, double-blind trial.   British Journal of Dermatology E-Pub prior to print.  10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09889.x

(2)Press release.   Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Written by Ani Kowal