Mothers who drank milk with a probiotic supplement both during pregnancy and after delivery were able to reduce the incidence of eczema in their babies by 50%.
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) compared mothers who drank one glass of probiotic milk a day to women who were given a placebo.
Use of the probiotic milk - which the mothers drank beginning at week 36 in their pregnancy up through to three months after birth-reduced the incidence of eczema by 40 percent in children up to age two, the researchers found.
The researchers followed 415 pregnant women and their children from pregnancy until the children were two years old. They were divided in two groups. Mothers in the study did not know whether they were given the probiotic milk or the placebo milk.
"The taste of both products was similar, and the milk was delivered in unmarked milk cartons. This means that neither the participants in the study or the researchers knew who had received probiotic milk or placebo milk," said NTNU researcher Torbjorn Oien.
"We can therefore say with great certainty that it was the probiotic bacteria alone that caused the difference in the incidence of eczema between the two groups," he said.
The children were checked for eczema throughout the period, as well as for asthma and allergy at age two. Afterwards, the incidence of asthma, eczema and allergy was compared in the two groups.
"The results showed that probiotic bacteria reduced the incidence of eczema in children up to age two years by 40 percent. And the kids in 'probiotics group' who did have eczema, had less severe cases," explained Christian Kvikne Dotterud, a student of NTNU.
"Our study is the first to show that certain probiotic bacteria given to the mother during pregnancy and breast-feeding prevents eczema," said Dotterud.
"In Norway, there has been some skepticism about giving infants probiotics. Therefore, it is preferable that mothers take probiotics, not children," he said.
Probiotics are generally considered safe for healthy people.
"We believe that probiotic bacteria affects breast milk composition in a positive way," Dotterud said.
The findings of the study were published in the British Journal of Dermatology.