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Atopic Dermatitis

Do Children Born to Older Mothers Have Higher Eczema Risk?

Published on 06/14/2021
Atopic DermatitisDiagnosis and DetailsSkinPregnancyEczema
older mother kissing child

In pregnancy, a mother is considered older (also known as advanced maternal age) at an age when she is beyond her “prime years” of reproduction, which is typically between 18-35 years old. Although there is no strict medical definition of advanced maternal age, it is typically defined as age 35 years or older. Advanced maternal age can be associated with higher risk for infertility, higher health risks for both the mother and baby during pregnancy and labor, and higher genetic abnormalities in the baby.[1,2] 

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the average age for first time mothers in the U.S. has increased from 24.9 years in 2000 to 26.3 years in 2014.[3] The major reasons for this trend of delaying pregnancy include the pursuit for higher education, career goals, and socioeconomic status. Additionally, the increasing availability and efficacy of birth control methods may have also led to increased age of first time mothers. Interestingly, in the recent decades, we are seeing a higher rate of atopic dermatitis that seems to coincide with having children at an older age.[4] One may then ask, are children born to older mothers more likely to develop eczema? 

Studies Looking at Mother’s Age When Giving Birth

There has been very little research conducted to look at this relationship. A group of researchers interviewed over 500 families that had more than 2 children.[4] They found that the second-born child is significantly more likely to have eczema than the first-born child. The average age of the mothers was 25 years old at the time of birth of the first child and 28 years when giving birth to the second child.[4] Based on these results, it is possible that the mothers’ higher age at the time of birth of their second child could be associated with the increased risk for eczema. The mechanism by which increased maternal age may be associated with increased eczema in the second born child needs further investigation. Socioeconomic status is known to play a role in the prevalence of eczema, and may be a factor in increased atopic dermatitis risk in subsequent children in a growing family due to higher financial demands. 

In another epidemiology study done in the United Kingdom in 1970 involving over 12,000 children, researchers concluded that maternal age is not an influencing factor for the children’s risk of developing atopic dermatitis.[5] In other words, the jury is still out on whether the “older mother theory” is linked to childhood eczema. 

Other Maternal Factors Associated with Eczema in Offspring

There is an ongoing and fervent search for significant factors that play a role in the onset and exacerbation of eczema, including research on various maternal factors. A recently published review article summarizes studies in the scientific literature that have looked at the role of the following factors in risk for eczema in offspring: 

  • Genetics: Increased risk for eczema if mothers are genetic carriers of the FLG gene mutation.[6] Maternal heritability of eczema also demonstrated through other genetic variations, including mitochondrial inheritance and polymorphisms.[7,8]
  • Immune System: Maternal immune response is associated with development of eczema in offspring.[6,9-11]
  • Nutrition: Higher maternal vegetable intake associated with decreased odds of offspring that develop eczema.[12]
  • Probiotics: Prenatal intake of probiotics may reduce the risk of eczema in children.[13,14]
  • Breastfeeding: Conflicting evidence in various studies to show whether breastfeeding is protective or not against eczema; this area of research remains controversial.[15,16]
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoking during pregnancy may increase the risk for eczema in children 2.3 times.[17]
  • Alcohol: Alcohol consumption during pregnancy increases risk for offspring to develop eczema.[18]
  • Maternal Contraceptive hormones: One study showed an increased risk for eczema in offspring in mothers who had previously used maternal contraceptive hormones prior to pregnancy.[19]
  • Occupational stress: Mothers working outside of the home during pregnancy showed increased risk for AD in offspring.[20]
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