This is Claire. She is my fourth baby, my “last” baby, and one of the greatest gifts of my life. She is the first baby I’ve had since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease and going gluten free. Because of this, I spent a lot of time during the postpartum period obsessing/fretting/freaking out about if/when I should expose my dear baby to gluten. I felt that I needed to do everything that I could to protect her from developing celiac disease. As usual, my husband was much more laid back and calm about the whole situation!
I researched my question and discovered the following:
1. Based on the best available information, gluten should be introduced to the “at risk” baby between 4 and 6 months of age. This runs counter to the current notion that infants should be exclusively breastfed for 6+ months and not have solids introduced until after 6 months.
2. Babies should be breastfed when gluten is first introduced and should continue to receive breast milk for at least 2-3 months after the first introduction to gluten.
Here is some of the science behind what I discovered:
-Anti-gliadin antibodies (antibodies against the major gluten protein) are present in breast milk of all women. The highest antibody titers are in colostrum, or early breastmilk, and levels decrease with time. It is hypothesized that these antibodies, which are passed from mother to baby, provide immunity to babies when gluten is introduced. Please refer to my post from November 2012 for additional information.
-Norris, et al. followed a large cohort of infants (>1500) in the U.S. who were at risk of developing celiac disease between the years 1994 and 2004. Feeding practices were analyzed and their research showed a much higher risk of celiac disease if gluten was introduced between 1 and 3 months of age or after 6 months of age.
- The rates of celiac disease skyrocketed in Sweden between 1984 and 1996; 3% of children born during this time developed celiac disease. This epidemic coincided with a nationwide change in feeding practice recommendations from starting solids between 4-6 months until after 6 months of age. This led to many infants having gluten introduced after being weaned from breastfeeding. See link for more information.
- The European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) recommends avoiding both early (<4 months) and late (>7 months) introduction of gluten and to introduce gluten while the infant is still being breastfed. This mirrors the advice given by the University of Chicago Celiac Center (see website). The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of introducing gluten while breastfeeding in their 2012 “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk” policy statement.
Overall, there seems to be a current consensus for an optimal “window” for introducing gluten to the “at-risk” baby between 4 and 7 months.
Back to sweet, little Claire. We started her on wheat-contaminated baby oatmeal at 4.5 months one time/day for about 4 weeks. She received exclusive breast milk for the next 2.5 months and is now a gluten-free baby. We’ll see what develops with time, but at if she develops Celiac Disease, at least I will know that I tried my best to prevent it!
Happy New Year and thank you for reading!
*Also, a quick reminder that this is a blog. I am summarizing medical literature, but also adding in my own thoughts and opinions on what I have read. I am not trying to tell anyone what they should do for their own health, nor am I giving medical advice through this page. Thank you!