GrapevineOct/Nov 2009 Issue

Eating A Gluten Free Diet While Pregnant

Gluten free for baby and me.

John Dowland/Photo Alto/age fotostock

John Dowland/Photo Alto/age fotostock

I was diagnosed with celiac disease four years ago. Like many celiacs, I had symptoms for nearly a decade before finally figuring out that gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley, was making me very sick.

I have finally mastered the gluten-free lifestyle. When I became pregnant last year, nothing changed about my diet. I continued to bring quinoa salad, crust-less quiche and gluten-free bread sandwiches with me to the office. My co-workers, who had always eyed my brown bag lunches with curiosity, seemed to think my new condition should have me rethinking my diet. Now that you’re pregnant, they asked, are you still planning to eat gluten free?

Of course, I explained. It’s not a lifestyle choice. Strictly adhering to my diet is probably the single most important thing I can do for my baby and me. But they seemed to feel that being on a diet of any kind was worrisome for a pregnant woman. Here are the questions I heard most often:

Aren’t you missing out on whole grains and fiber since you can’t have wheat? Fair question. I had wondered the same thing when I was first diagnosed. But with the help of a nutritionist, I found plenty of good-for-you gluten-free grains, like quinoa, teff and millet, that are chock-full of fiber, which I’d learned was particularly important to keep my sometimes sluggish gut going.

Don’t you have cravings for foods like doughnuts or pizza? Sure. I had a few hormonal hankerings, especially for ice cream. Luckily, I was able to indulge my cravings with a brand of ice cream that I triple-checked to make sure was gluten free. And just to feel a bit like a diva, I once sent my husband out at an insanely late hour for a pint. He humored my whim, driving to several grocery stores before he found one that stocked that particular variety.

Do you want to cheat? No. I wasn't able to get pregnant when I was still eating gluten. Back then, I was rail-thin, anemic and far too exhausted to carry a bag of groceries, let alone carry a baby. During my pregnancy, I felt like the picture of health, a ripe and flowering gluten-free goddess, and I wasn’t about to cheat myself out of feeling that good.

Will you gain enough weight? Yes. I’m on a gluten-free diet, not a calorie-restricted diet. Indeed, I gained a healthy 22 pounds and delivered a bouncing baby girl right on schedule. A welcome surprise was that taking off the pregnancy weight was mercifully easier than I expected.

These days despite being busy changing diapers and washing countless loads of laundry, my gluten-free diet is a top priority for me as a new mother. I’m nursing my daughter and once again I assure inquiring co-workers that there’s no need to consume gluten in order to successfully breastfeed a baby. And while I’ve never felt hungrier than during these postpartum months, I have never been more satisfied with my gluten-free life.

Christine Boyd has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University where she wrote her thesis on maternal celiac disease. She lives in Baltimore.

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