There's a long list of stressful questions new parents are likely to have after their baby is born.
One of which being, will their child develop any severe allergies?
As a team of University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers recently found out, the answers to that one can often be found in a newborn's diaper.
The local researchers detailed their findings in a new study published in Cell Reports Medicine this week, explaining that the composition of a baby’s very first poop—a substance known as meconium—is associated with whether or not that child will develop allergies before their first birthday.
“Our analysis revealed that newborns who developed allergic sensitization by one year of age had significantly less ‘rich’ meconium at birth, compared to those who didn’t develop allergic sensitization,” the study’s senior co-author Dr. Brett Finlay—a professor at the Michael Smith Laboratories and departments of biochemistry and molecular biology, and microbiology and immunology at UBC—said in a release.
As part of the study, researchers collected a combination of meconium, microbe and clinical data. The analysis of that data allowed the study's authors to predict with a 76 per cent degree of accuracy whether an infant would develop allergies within their first 12 months of life.
Meconium is comprised of a variety of materials that babies ingest before they're born, such as skin cells, amniotic fluid and various molecules known as metabolites. Typically, this substance is passed within 24 hours of a baby's birth.
Explained the study’s lead author, UBC department of pediatrics research associate Dr. Charisse Petersen, “Meconium is like a time capsule, revealing what the infant was exposed to before it was born. It contains all sorts of molecules encountered and accumulated from the mother while in the womb, and it then becomes the initial food source for the earliest gut microbes."
The research team analyzed meconium samples from 100 infants to discover that the fewer different types of molecules a baby’s meconium contained, the higher that child’s risk of developing allergies within one year. A reduction in certain types of molecules also affected bacterial groups that in turn affected the development and maturation of the baby's all-important gut microbes.
"This work shows that the development of a healthy immune system and microbiota may actually start well before a child is born—and signals that the tiny molecules an infant is exposed to in the womb play a fundamental role in future health,” Petersen added.
The study findings could also have important and positive implications for at-risk infants, the researchers said.
As the study’s senior co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey, a professor in UBC’s department of pediatrics, explained, it's known that children with allergies are at the highest risk of also developing asthma. "Now we have an opportunity to identify at-risk infants who could benefit from early interventions before they even begin to show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life,” he said.
When it comes to food in particular, about seven per cent of babies and young children will develop an allergy, according to HealthLink BC. Scientists have also found that babies are at increased risk of developing food allergies if their parents or siblings have been diagnosed with an allergic condition. Meanwhile, research shows introducing a baby to common food allergens once they're ready for solid foods—like milk, eggs, nuts, soy, seafood, wheat and sesame, for instance—can decrease their risk of developing a food allergy down the line.