Feed baby wheat early to avoid celiac disease

By Shayna Brouker • Published: May 7th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In addition to regular vaccinations, dietary supplements and a solid sleep schedule, you might want to add this simple remedy to your baby’s wellness plan: wheat. A new Swedish study suggests that if you want to help your baby avoid developing celiac disease, feeding her wheat while she’s still breastfeeding might help her escape the disease.

Celiac disease is a condition in which foods that contain the protein called gluten damage the lining of the small intestine. Gluten is found in wheat and related grains, like barley, rye and triticale. It sounds counterintuitive, but the study, published in the journal Pediatrics found that this small window of opportunity might help a baby develop a tolerance to the protein.

The researchers compared two groups of children: one born during a time when celiac diagnoses increased fourfold, and another when it decreased by about the same amount. Those born after 1996, when doctors recommended gluten be introduced at four months, had a 25 percent lower risk of celiac disease than those born in 1982. At that time, the benchmark was 6 months old.

It’s a good idea to introduce gluten while breastfeeding because it’s been proven to stimulate healthy bacteria growth in the gut. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says infants who start eating gluten when they’re breastfeeding have a 52 percent decreased risk of getting celiac disease.

Celiac disease occurs in about 1 percent of the population and is usually passed on genetically. If your baby does develop celiac disease despite your best efforts, a few signs include gas and bloating, changes in bowel movements, weight loss, lethargy and weakness on most days. If left untreated, your child could get very sick. But life without gluten is not a life sentenced to tasteless food — gluten-free products abound.