Giving probiotics to women in the final weeks of pregnancy leads to a healthy gut flora in their babies and may reduce the risk of eczema in young children.

Studies have shown that giving probiotics to pregnant women and newborns can reduce eczema by 50 per cent at two years of age. Giving probiotics just to babies does not have the same affect.

Reporting in the prestigious Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, A/Professor Mimi Tang suggested that prenatal probiotics could prove the most successful route in promoting a healthy gut flora of "good bugs" in infants. Past studies have suggested these bugs are important in preventing the development of allergic disease such as eczema.

The study recruited 250 pregnant women whose babies were at high risk of developing allergic diseases. The women received probiotic capsules or a placebo from 36 weeks gestation.

A/Professor Tang said the results clearly demonstrated that giving probiotics to the mother alone can modify gut flora in the infant to three months of age.

While probiotics are commonly found in foods such as yoghurt and fermented soy bean products, A/Professor Tang said giving the correct probiotic in the right dose and at the right time was critical in reducing allergic disease as different probiotic bacteria could have the opposite effect.

(Source: Murdoch Children’s Research Institute: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: July 2009)