Going Gluten-FreeMarch 26, 2012

First Bite. Giving Gluten to Your Baby.

Can the timing of gluten introduction reduce the chances that your baby will develop celiac disease?

When I was a new mother with celiac disease, I had an endless list of questions. The big one: When should I first feed my baby gluten?

In 2008, when my first daughter was born, the medical recommendation was to gradually give gluten-containing cereals between 4 to 6 months of age--a window of time when the gut may be mature enough to handle the gluten protein and when the total amount of gluten a baby eats is relatively small (perhaps another plus, I was told).

But by 2010, when my second daughter was born, there were hints that another study might soon suggest delaying gluten could be beneficial.

Indeed, just last week a small study* from the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research found that holding off on gluten until at least 12 months of age may postpone the onset of the autoimmune response that leads to celiac disease.

Did this latest news come as a frustrating blow? Not really. None of the research promises you can altogether avoid the risk of celiac through timing of gluten introduction. Plus, in the end, I hadn’t followed any particular guidance on gluten with either daughter.

Like other parents, my husband and I had to decide what felt right for us. And giving our girls gluten at 4 or 6 months of age seemed far too early. In fact, they didn’t get any solid foods until close to 8 months, and then it was rice cereal.

It wasn’t until my oldest daughter was 27 months old that she first had gluten. (She’s now almost four.) At snack time on her first day of preschool, she ate Nabisco graham crackers washed down with full-strength (undiluted) apple juice. I still wasn’t sure if it was the “right time” to start gluten and, a bit nervous, I considered sending her in with a gluten-free snack. But my husband, who doesn’t have celiac disease, felt firmly that she didn’t need a special snack when she didn’t technically have celiac disease or food allergy. She could now verbalize to us if she wasn’t feeling well, he argued. We’d keep a close eye on things.

Almost two years later, she continues to eat whatever they serve for snack at school. I always ask what she ate and sometimes find myself chuckling as she struggles to describe a different world of gluten-filled snack food. The other day, she told me she ate crackers that looked like wheels. They had tiny holes, too, she said. It took me a minute but then I realized: Ritz crackers. Sometimes she loves the snack (Nilla wafers), other times not so much (ginger snaps).

Outside of preschool, I continue to feed my daughter gluten-free food. Because she’s grown up on gluten-free food, she’s not fussy about slightly different textures or tastes. How many kids love a little garbanzo bean flour in their muffins?

My youngest daughter, approaching her 2nd birthday, is still gluten-free, except for the goldfish she found half-hidden in the mulch at the park last month. When I saw her shove the cheddar-flavored cracker into her mouth, I jumped into action, sweeping it out as if it were a cigarette butt. (I didn’t get all of it.)

My younger daughter will be going to preschool next fall and like her big sister, I’ll let her have her first (planned) bite of gluten at snack time. Even though it’s my second time through this experience, I’m still not entirely comfortable with it. But I’m not entirely comfortable with dropping her off at preschool for the first time either.

When did you first give gluten to your child?

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*Sellitto M, Bai G, Serena G, Fricke WF, Sturgeon C, et al. (2012) Proof of Concept of Microbiome-Metabolome Analysis and Delayed Gluten Exposure on Celiac Disease Autoimmunity in Genetically At-Risk Infants. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033387  http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0033387

Comments (6)

I have celiac disease and introduced my daughter to gluten at 5 and half months based on a study that showed introducing it later (after 7 months) or earlier (4 months, before the gastro system is developed) can increase the risk of the disease in children predisposed to it (i.e. have a family history). You can read about it on my blog, called FeedingIsla. I'm curious: aside from having celiac disease, a genetic predisposition to it, or a gluten allergy, why are parents withholding this protein from their children?

Posted by: Ameliaryansherry | July 4, 2012 8:03 AM    Report this comment

I am quite sensitive to gluten (severe vomiting and no food other than GF crackers for a week afterward), but do not have full-blown celiac disease.

I do not have children, so cannot comment on the issue of when to introduce gluten. However, when I read your posting, I thought it was strange that you would use pre-school snack time to introduce gluten for the first time. That puts a lot of responsibility upon the teacher, and many (most?) of them are not trained to pick up on the symptoms of a child having a food reaction. Trust me on this - I am former pre-school teacher.

Had it been my child, I would have introduced the gluten snack at home, and watched my child like a hawk. Home is also the place where most families store whatever medications they stock for reactions to food.

Posted by: GFCF Babe | March 31, 2012 6:57 PM    Report this comment

My daughter was probably in the 4-6 month range when she had gluten: baby cereal, teething biscuits, and other baby foods... Her daddy was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity in the first year of our daughters life. We noticed that she'd have rashes on her face, be really grumpy and angry at times. Our family doctor told us that kids get rashes and that kids have different personalities and she might just be a difficult child. We decided to remove gluten, dairy, and egg because that's the dietary issues of my husband, which we discovered with the help of a naturalpath doctor. Under the ND's direction our daughter is doing great today! No welt bringing rashes, no itchy bum, no pain and therefore she has more patience and is a happy healthy child now. I don't know if it was too early for gluten, or if the age really matters when you introduce a food, but know your child and don't accept "well that's the way things are " arguments.

Posted by: Crystal L | March 29, 2012 3:41 PM    Report this comment

If I were you, I'd NEVER give my children gluten! There is absolutely no reason for them to have it and they don't need it. Several years ago, my son was experiencing several health issues so we had him tested for Celiac Disease. He tested negative....so the doctors told him to keep eating gluten until he got CD. We found this advice ridiculous and unacceptable, and, on our own, had him tested for Gluten Syndrome through Enterolab. These test results showed he has Gluten Sensitivity and had the gene for CD. Even at 13, despite what his doctors told him, our son had the common sense to never eat gluten again!- and his health improved immediately. Proactive prevention is the key to optimal health, safety and well being! Good luck!!

Posted by: commonsense | March 29, 2012 11:13 AM    Report this comment

The question is whether delayed exposure to gluten will keep those gluten sensitive genes shut off forever. To see an example of epigenetics, search agouti mice. This is a graphic example of genes that are never expressed due to nutritional changes during development. Studies are in process about this question but it will be a long time before we have a good answer. An excellent study about 10 years ago showed that all first degree relatives of gluten sensitive people are at the same risk of death (that is 2-8 times higher) at every age from whatever people die from if they continue to eat gluten. My kids are grown now but they understand the gluten issue and their kids will be on a gluten free diet throughout their childhood. I think that is wise. If they get exposed from time to time as is bound to happen it shouldn't be a big deal.

Posted by: Daniel S | March 29, 2012 9:53 AM    Report this comment

Tough question to answer, especially since so many people have gluten sensitivities that can be very different from full blown celiac disease. In our family, my wife cannot be anywhere near gluten or she is sick for hours. At 2 we took my son off of it as he kept getting fluid in his ears and nose, started developing a nasty cough at bedtime that was continually treated with antibiotics and finally steroid breathing treatments every night. After 2 days without gluten, that all cleared up. My 8 year does not really seem to have symptoms, but she does tend to get some acid reflux every now and then, especially after she has had gluten. Personally, never had a symptom in my life of any allergy to gluten and then we did a 3 week elimination cleanse at work. When I reintroduced gluten to my diet, I had immediate problems, so last March, I went fully gluten free. The good news is, that for the first time in my 40 years, I had no seasonal allergies, no symptoms, no drugs no nothing, great trade off. Well, now we have a 10 month old little girl, and I really just don't believe that we will ever introduce her to gluten. It is certainly not a needed nutrient, and in fact, it is mostly horrible for everyone as it is in mostly junk food, and by avoiding it, you are almost guaranteeing that you are eating a healthy diet. We have gone pretty much totally Paleo with our diet, and I am pretty sure that is how our baby girl is going to be too.

Posted by: Jason M | March 29, 2012 8:47 AM    Report this comment

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