Managing a Gluten-Free Pregnancy

by Pregnancy.org Staff

happy mom with healthy newbornWe hear the terms "gluten-free" and "celiac" more often these days. What does it all mean? What does it mean for your pregnancy?

If you've been diagnosed with celiac disease (or are gluten intolerant), you might be concerned that eating gluten-free while being pregnant won't give your baby enough nutrients. NOT TRUE. You and your baby benefit from maintaining a gluten-free diet.

Celiac Disease and Pregnancy

Gluten is mixture of two types of proteins. For celiacs, the type found in wheat, barley and rye triggers an autoimmune response that results in damage to the small intestine along with other related problems.

Celiac disease is more common in women than men. It occurs in adults and children with an incidence approaching 1% in Western countries.

Women with undiagnosed/untreated celiac disease experience a higher rate of miscarriage. Miscarriages occurs more often in women with undiagnosed celiac disease than in the regular population.

Untreated celiac disease increases the risk of poor pregnancy outcome. Several studies report higher rates of miscarriage, preterm labor, low birth weight and stillbirth in women with celiac disease who are not on a gluten-free diet.

During pregnancy, women with celiac disease who eat a gluten-containing diet face:

  • Increase risk of anemia
  • Higher risk of preterm labor
  • More small-for-gestational-age babies
  • Higher number of stillborn infants

The good news: When a mom-to-be with celiac disease (or gluten intolerance) maintains a strictly gluten-free diet her chances of having a healthy baby are the same as the general population.

Following a Gluten-Free Diet

Let's get you started growing that beautiful, healthy baby. You can do it! Before you know it you'll barely think about your challenges. You'll know what foods you can eat, what questions to ask, which ingredients to look out for, and the best places to eat. Being prepared prevents being overwhelmed or feeling you're deprived of what you need and want.

There are a lot of positives! Gluten-free diets include lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods. You and your baby will be eating very healthfully!

Go for the Good Stuff

Eat plenty of these healthy, gluten-free foods! On the list:

  • All fruit, salads, vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Rice and corn
  • Nuts
  • Bean and lentils
  • Red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products
  • Processed foods that are made without gluten

Gluten-Free Sample Menu

A gluten-free diet sounds scary. Really though, it's a piece of cake -- gluten-free of course! We've put together these menu ideas to get you started:

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with salsa, orange slices
Lunch: Turkey and swiss sandwich on gluten-free bread, red pepper and tomato slices.
Dinner: Salmon with lemon, brown rice and asparagus
Snacks: Fresh fruit topped with Greek yogurt, peanut butter on celery

Breakfast: Yogurt and fresh fruit, gluten-free toast
Lunch: Chicken salad wraps made with leftover chicken, thinly sliced romaine, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, dill-yogurt sauce
Dinner: Meatloaf made with grated carrots, zucchini, onion gluten-free oats, tomato sauce and potatoes. Serve with a salad and fresh fruit
Snacks: Raw veggies dipped in hummus, apple slices with peanut butter

Breakfast: Make-Ahead Breakfast Smoothie
Lunch: Lentil and cauliflower curry
Dinner: Tofu and vegetable stir-fry with Quinoa
Snacks: Low-fat cheese stick and fresh fruit, corn chips with bean dip

Avoid Gluten-Containing Foods

Gluten is found in these foods (it can be very sneaky!):

  • Bread, pasta and breakfast cereals
  • Pizza bases
  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries
  • Some soy sauces, spices, mustards and mayonnaises
  • Some canned soups, sauces, ready meals and processed foods
  • Some chips and similar snacks
  • Beer, lager, stouts and ales

Gluten Hidden Here? Seriously?

Hidden sources of gluten include additives such as modified food starch, preservatives, and stabilizers made with wheat.

Because many corn and rice products are produced in factories that also manufacture wheat products, they can be contaminated with wheat gluten.

Gluten is sometimes used as an additive in unexpected products --such as lipstick and play dough. If the ingredients aren't listed on the label, ask the manufacturer for a list.

Looking Forward to Childbirth

Birthing: Celiac disease will not affect your labor or delivery. However, if your birthing plan includes a c-sections, ask your doctor about the sutures. Some contain gluten. The hospital can have gluten-free sutures available.

Your baby: Celiac disease is genetic so if you're a celiac the chances of your baby having it increases. What can you do for your child? Breastfeed! Studies suggest that breastfeeding, particularly when your baby first tries gluten, may significantly decrease the chance of acquiring celiac disease. The patients in this study were not followed for a prolonged period of time so it's not know if breastfeeding permanently decreases risk of developing celiac disease or simply delays it.

When's the best time to introduce gluten? Data suggests it's advisable to wait until after your baby is a year old or even longer.

Tanner was almost 16-months-old when he was tested. Before his appointment he had to eat gluten-containing foods for two weeks. It was a blood test and very rough for a little kid. We got the positive result back in 14 days. ~Becki

Unlike conditions that require medication or treatment that might harm your baby, treating celiac disease actually benefits your growing bean! A gluten-free diet overcomes pregnancy risk factors correlated with celiac disease and provides all the nutrients baby will need to build an amazing body and complex brain.

About the study:
D. Martinelli et al. Reproductive life disorders in Italian celiac women. A case-control study. BMC Gastroenterology. 2010 Aug 6;10:89. A significant correlation was observed between untreated celiac disease and threatened abortion, gestational hypertension, placenta abruption, severe anaemia, uterine hyperkinesia, intrauterine growth restriction (p

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