As a mother of four children ages 7 and under, I have spent a lot of time over the past few years breastfeeding and expressing breast milk. I did not get diagnosed with celiac disease until after my 3rd was born in 2009, so it was not until my last pregnancy that I was actually gluten free…although, looking back, my “craving” during my 3rd pregnancy was for Rice Chex with milk (my body must have been trying to tell me something!) If you are interested, my pregnancy cravings during my other pregnancies were as follows: fillet-o-fish sandwiches with cheese (1st), Golden Grahams cereal (2nd), sweet potatoes (4th). I admit the fillet-o-fish thing is disgusting.
Thus far, I have not noticed any differences between my three oldest children and Baby Claire, my gluten free baby, in terms of the pregnancies, labors, deliveries, birth weights, colic vs. no colic, breast milk production, or growth during infancy. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this as I’ve had irrational fears that my undiagnosed celiac had somehow secretly “damaged” my three oldest kids. In researching information on breastfeeding and celiac disease I came across the following link on the www.infantrisk.com site. This website, part of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, is a great resource for information on the exposure of infants to medications, nutrients, herbs, etc. through breast milk. I have called their toll free number several times in my work with with newborn babies, and have always found them to be helpful in terms of giving advice about medications in mothers’ milk.
The crux of the article is that anti-gliadin antibodies (antibodies against the major protein in gluten) are present in the breast milk of all women, even those without celiac disease. The numbers of anti-gliadin antibodies are highest in the colostrum, or early breast milk, and decrease as the months go on. These antibodies seem to be important to babies because they provide early immunity against gluten, and thus, possibly decrease the risk of later developing gluten intolerance and/or celiac disease. This helps to explain the “protective” effect of breast milk which has been shown in study after study. So now, while I still feel terrible that I was not gluten free while pregnant and breastfeeding my oldest kids, I know that I probably gave them huge titers of anti-gliadin antibodies in my celiac-diseased breast milk!
I struggled to figure out when to introduce gluten to Claire’s diet (she was just born in early 2012) and went ahead and bit the bullet. I’ll discuss this more in upcoming weeks.