Women of child-bearing age with gluten intolerance have an issue that men or older women don’t need to worry about – pregnancy. There are actually two issues concerning gluten intolerance and pregnancy. The first issue concerns women who know they have gluten intolerance before they get pregnant. The second issue involves women who get pregnant and don’t know they have gluten intolerance.
If you get pregnant and have gluten intolerance, the good news is your baby is safe as long as you follow a gluten-free diet. The only caveat is you need to supplement your diet with multivitamins and folic acid, but that is the same advice given to most pregnant women. The dosage is higher than a non-pregnant woman would take to prevent neural development problems in the fetus. Most folate in a person without Celiac disease comes from folate enriched wheat breads and cereals.
I have received emails from young women worried about possible harm to their unborn baby because they were eating a gluten free diet. I have two children of my own and can empathize with their concerns. When we are pregnant the health of the baby becomes an overriding concern for mothers-to-be. But if you take the amount of folate and vitamins the doctor recommends, and follow your gluten-free diet carefully so you don’t get sick, your baby will be protected from possible missing nutrients in your diet.
Women who get pregnant and don’t know they have Celiac Disease are the second issue, and the news is not as good. Women with undiagnosed gluten intolerance who get pregnant have a significantly higher rate of miscarriage. They also have babies born with a lower birth weight. This is related to not getting enough folic acid and nutrients because food is not being digested properly.
But the great news is that risks to the unborn drop to normal rates in women who are diagnosed as gluten intolerant and follow a gluten free diet for up to a year.
If you are gluten intolerant, you know what you need to do to protect your health and the health of your baby. But if you are reading this and have gluten intolerance, please make sure you share this information with other family members – especially the ones who are of child bearing age. Celiac disease is a genetic disease and odds are that all those digestive problems Cousin Mary has are really the result of gluten intolerance.
If you have gluten intolerance and plan on getting pregnant, it is even more important than ever to follow the gluten free diet religiously. Studies about the impact of gluten intolerance on fertility are far from complete. There are still a lot of unknowns to be researched – such as the question of whether or not gluten intolerance is related to other common birth defects.