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Rana asks, “I am eight months pregnant with my first baby and I am planning on breastfeeding. I was told that since I had celiac disease it was better that I just use formula because my antibodies against grains that I make in my milk would cause the baby to also develop celiac disease and that could cause him to not gain weight or grow well. My motherly instincts tell me this can’t be right. What is the latest on this topic?”
Your motherly instinct was right, formula is not recommended for individuals who might be susceptible to celiac and breastfeeding is the best way to help your baby have a healthy gut. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that affects 1% of the United States population and is not passed through the antibodies in human milk or caused by breastfeeding. If a person who has this condition was to ingest gluten protein, which is found in many cereal grains, he/she might experience cramping, bloating and mal-absorptive diarrhea along with many other symptoms. If the baby was genetically susceptible to this condition and you chose to breastfeed, it would not prevent that baby from possibly developing it later in life, but research is showing the onset is delayed and the severity is reduced be breastfeeding. Formula feeding would not be ideal for your infant’s gut and could possibly increase symptoms and severity later in life. Studies have shown that if a mother were to exclusively breastfeed her baby for six months and not do early introduction of solids and cereals it appears to delay the first onset of symptoms for 15 months. Breastmilk has properties that help protect the baby’s gut from the damage; these are the same properties that help protect the baby from gut infections. So the best case scenario for your baby in relation to this condition is for you as the mother to avoid any gluten and to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months. The baby should avoid solids before that time, and continue to be cautious about the introduction of grains containing gluten.