It may seem ill-advised to get a puppy while you’re pregnant and preparing to take on the responsibility of a baby, but new research has found that you could actually be doing your future offspring a favor.
The data analysis, published in the journal Microbiome, looked at a large subsample of 746 infants from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD) cohort, whose mothers were enrolled during pregnancy between 2009 and 2012. Researchers found that households with furry pets were more likely to have babies with higher levels of Ruminococcus and Oscillospira — healthy gut bacteria linked to decreased risks of childhood allergies and obesity. Among the families studied, 48 percent had a dog, 36 percent had a cat, 8 percent had a dog and cat, and 7 percent had “other furry pets.”
There was some drop-off in pet ownership after the babies were born (for example, following birth, 44 percent of households had a dog and 34 percent had a cat), but even babies born to those families that had furry pets only while the mother was pregnant had higher levels of healthy gut bacteria than those that had no furry pets in the house during and after pregnancy.
Jessica Shepherd, MD, an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of minimally invasive gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, who did not work on the study, tells Yahoo Beauty that the results make sense. “The more exposure you have to different people or different animals, the more it will increase good bacteria in the microbiome that’s going to be created because of your exposure,” she says. A baby’s mother passes on her immune response during pregnancy, Shepherd explains, so if the mother’s immune system has a certain reaction to having a pet in the house, the baby’s will too.
Study co-author Anita Kozyrskyj, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta, tells Yahoo Beauty that furry pets may even impact the vaginal microbes of pregnant women, and those changes could be passed on to the baby during birth.
Kathryn A. Boling, MD, a primary care physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, who did not work on the study, tells Yahoo Beauty that households with an animal tend to have more bacteria than those without, simply by way of the animals tracking germs around. And, while that may help babies in utero by way of their mother’s immune response, it also can give them a boost once they’re born. “Babies that are exposed to these things are a little bit more healthy, and they tend to have less asthma and respiratory issues,” she says. “They may have more numerous good bacteria in the gut for the same reasons.”
Kozyrskyj points out that researchers still don’t know what “dose of exposure” is needed for a baby to benefit from being around furry animals, so it’s hard to say if families will get the same effect from regularly visiting a household with a dog or cat versus having one of their own. However, she says, “families told us they owned a furry pet, which suggests regular contact.”
So, if you’re pregnant and considering getting a puppy, maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all.
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