Get access

Exposure of the fetus and infant to hens' egg ovalbumin via the placenta and breast milk in relation to maternal intake of dietary egg


G.H.S. Vance, MP803, Child Health, Level G, Centre block, Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton S016 6YD, UK.


Background Maternally derived allergens may be transferred to the developing infant during pregnancy and lactation. However, it is not known how manipulation of environmental allergen levels might impact on this early-life exposure.

Objective To measure dietary egg allergen (ovalbumin (OVA)) in gestation-associated environments, in relation to maternal dietary egg intake.

Method OVA was measured by allergen-specific ELISA in maternal blood collected throughout pregnancy, infant blood at birth (umbilical cord) and in breast milk at 3 months post-partum. Samples derived from pregnant women undergoing diagnostic amniocentesis at 16–18 weeks gestation who were not subject to any dietary intervention, and from pregnant women, with personal or partner atopy, randomized to complete dietary egg exclusion or an unmodified healthy diet before 20 weeks gestation as a primary allergy prevention strategy. Maternal dietary egg intake was monitored closely throughout the study period by diary record and serial measurement of OVA-specific immunoglobulin G concentration.

Results Circulating OVA was detected throughout pregnancy in 20% of women and correlated with both presence (P<0.001) and concentration (r=0.754, P<0.001) of infant OVA at birth (umbilical cord). At 3 months post-partum OVA was detected in breast milk samples of 35% women, in higher concentrations than measured in blood. Blood and breast milk OVA were not related to maternal dietary intake or atopic pre-disposition.

Conclusions Rigorous dietary egg exclusion does not eliminate trans-placental and breast milk egg allergen passage. This early-life exposure could modulate developing immune responses.

Get access to the full text of this article