Celiac Disease Symptoms
in Babies and Young Children

I started showing celiac disease symptoms as a very young baby, back in the early 1960s. My parents didn't know what was causing them at the time as the condition had only been reliably diagnosed since the late 1950s. Check out my page on the history of the condition.  

Back in those days the first food given to a baby was often rusk soaked in formula. Bad move in my case! At the age of 4 months I ended up in hospital.

My parents had noticed the following symptoms...

  • Diarrhoea - many soft, smelly, pale-colored bowel movements each day
  • I refused to feed
  • When I did eat I vomited after the meal
  • Excessive smelly flatulance
  • Irritability - apparently I hardly ever stopped crying!
  • Fatigue - when I wasn't crying I was sleeping, day and night
  • Weight gain stopped - in fact I weighed less at 4 months than I did when I was born
  • Distended stomach but skinny arms and legs
  • Flat buttocks

The first doctor my mother took me too refused to acknowledge there was a problem. He as much as told her she was a paranoid first time parent! Luckily for me she persevered and took me back after a couple of weeks. 

This time she saw a locum doctor who reacted swiftly and sent me straight to the hospital, where I stayed for the next three months while they tried to work out what was wrong with me. 

Is your baby showing celiac disease symptoms?

When your baby changes from an all milk diet to solid foods is the time to be alert to possible issues. Today's advice is to avoid foods containing gluten at a young age, and feed naturally gf products until at least the age of six months. Then gradually introduce suspect foods and check to see if there is any reaction before adding others. 

In the past it was thought that if you didn't feed your babies gluten there was a reduced risk of them getting a celiac diagnosis. However, there is no evidence that this makes any difference. If your child has "the gene" then they have a higher risk of developing celiac disease symptoms independent of when gluten is introduced into their diet. 

What should I do if I my baby is showing signs?

Remember, it may be that not all the above symptoms are present, and of course any one of them can have a perfectly innocent explanation. But if you notice them on a regular basis then don't ignore them!

To support your suspicions, you may wish to keep a daily food record (just a quick note) to remind you what your baby has had to eat and the effect it had.

You should see no reaction to fruit, vegetables or baby rice; whereas rusks, breakfast cereals and pudding (typically where gluten is found) may have resulted in your baby becoming irritable and delivering some very smelly diapers/nappies!

When should you visit a doctor?

If you are at all concerned, take your baby to the doctor and ask if tests can be run to prove or eliminate the diagnosis of celiac disease. 

It is important to keep in mind that people requiring a Celiac test MUST NOT remove gluten from their diet before being tested, and this goes for babies too. If they are fed only gluten free foodstuffs then tests may result in what is known as a "false-negative" which is no help to either you or your baby.

A positive result, however, does not mean that your baby has Celiac! Your doctor will want to follow this up with a biopsy to make a definitive diagnosis.

Celiac Disease Symptoms Confirmed?

If your baby does turn out to have the condition, it is not the end of the world. It is treatable by diet alone. Your child will not need injections, operations or medication.

The added benefit of being diagnosed with celiac early is that your child will not have to go through the trauma of changing to a gluten free diet after eating "normally" for a period of time. If they grow up knowing nothing else, it can be a lot easier for them to cope.

Where do I go from here?

I remember my mother saying she was scared and felt alone when she eventually got my diagnosis. Back then there was little help available so she had no idea how to cope. If you are in this situation today, the opportunity to research the disease on the Internet, and chat with others experiencing the same issues will help immensely. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is that your baby must stick to a gluten free diet from now on. There is a special section of this site devoted to gluten free baby food which includes simple recipes to get you started.

Basically you are cutting out foods that contain wheat, rye, barley and oats. This includes all baked goods such as bread, cake and cookies if they are made from wheat flour.

There are, however, many alternative flours and grains that can be used in your home cooking. The shops also have a wide range of gluten free products available from a growing number of manufacturers, making it easier than ever to stick to this new way of eating.

Long gone are the days where my mother had to import flour from Ireland and buy (disgusting) bread in tins just so I had something to eat. 

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