Celiac Disease in Pregnancy

Sometimes, celiac disease in pregnancy is the first sign that anything is wrong, health wise. In fact, even conceiving can be difficult if you are an undiagnosed celiac!

Other gynecological symptoms, such as late menarche (onset of menstruation), irregular, painful periods, or even early menopause can also indicate the condition. 

If any of the above sounds familiar and you have not been diagnosed it may be time to undertake a celiac disease test to either confirm or rule out the possibility. 

Pregnancy and the gluten free diet

Once diagnosed, and eating a gluten free diet, your chances of infertility issues or miscarriage drop to those of any other woman. It is wise, however, to allow time for your body to recover on the diet, before trying again if you have previously had such issues. Waiting for a period of six months to a year, after a positive diagnosis, would be advisable. This will allow your body to absorb all the nutrients it requires.

Folic Acid

One of the nutrients that is essential during the first weeks of pregnancy is folic acid, which is normally present in enriched breads, pasta and breakfast cereals.

Gluten free alternatives to these basic foods, do not always contain sufficient folic acid, therefore it may be necessary to supplement your diet with tablets or capsules to ensure you get enough.

Why do you need folic acid?

Not having enough can put your growing foetus at risk of neural tube defects. The neural tube becomes the spinal cord and brain of your baby. Defects arising from an insufficiency could range from mild to severe. They are caused by incomplete development of the brain or spinal cord.

One of the most common neural tube defects is Spina Bifida, which happens when the spine fails to close properly early in the pregnancy. The consequences of this include paralysis or hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

Other essential nutrients

In addition to folic acid, iron and calcium are important nutrients that need to be included in your diet.

Calcium can be found in milk, cheese, oily fish and egg yolks (although it is important to avoid soft boiled or raw eggs while you are pregnant!).

While coping with celiac disease in pregnancy you should also ensure that you get enough iron. This can sometimes be problematic as foods such as liver or liver pate are off limits. Try to eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collards or artichokes, along with dried fruits (prunes, raisins), pulses (beans, lentils etc) and shellfish if you can.

Avoid constipation

For many celiacs, constipation is the least of their worries! However, during pregnancy it can be a problem. Ensure your diet contains plenty of fibre such as vegetables, fruit and gluten free grains such as brown rice or buckwheat to keep you "regular".

My personal experience of celiac disease in pregnancy

On the my story page, I tell of my experiences with the gluten free diet, from when I was a baby to the present day. Below, I go into more detail about my pregnancies.

My first child

At the time my first child was born I had been on the diet for many years. After coming off "the pill" I conceived with 1 month which surprised both of us! 

However, I suffered badly with morning sickness throughout the whole 9 months of pregnancy, being taken into hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum long before my daughter was born.

While I was still at work, I lost so much weight that my engagement ring fell off my finger, never to be found again.

My daughter was a healthy 7 and a half pounds when she was born and I was at last able to keep food down again.

Following advice from my doctor, it was suggested that I was tested for celiac again. The tests indicated that my villi were "normal" and that I could go back to eating a gluten full diet. I was happy to try this and started eating bread, cakes etc with gusto. 

I soon began to feel very ill and reluctantly put myself back on the gluten free diet. However, even this short foray off the diet was enough to play havoc with my body.

My second child

Once my daughter was 18 months old we started trying for another baby. This time things did not happen so quickly.

In fact I had to wait 4 years before conceiving again. Sadly that pregnancy did not last past 12 weeks, leaving me depressed. 

Another miscarriage followed before I eventually became pregnant with my son, who was born when my daughter was nearly 8 years old.

Again, I sufferred terribly with morning sickness throught the whole pregnancy, spending yet more time in hospital on a drip to ensure I got some nourishment. Having celiac disease in pregnancy meant that I actually weighed less at the time of my son's birth than I did at conception!

In summary

Looking back, I am sure it was abandoning the gluten fee diet that caused the unexplained infertility problems I experienced.

My sister-in-law, discovered she was a celiac while expecting her second child. You can read her story of pregnancy and celiac disease here.

If you have had similar problems why not get in touch and share your story on the site. 

- - Celiac disease in pregnancy


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