First Bite. Giving Gluten to Your Baby.
Can the timing of gluten introduction reduce the chances that your baby will develop celiac disease?
When I was a new mother with celiac disease, I had an endless list of questions. The big one: When should I first feed my baby gluten?
In 2008, when my first daughter was born, the medical recommendation was to gradually give gluten-containing cereals between 4 to 6 months of age--a window of time when the gut may be mature enough to handle the gluten protein and when the total amount of gluten a baby eats is relatively small (perhaps another plus, I was told).
But by 2010, when my second daughter was born, there were hints that another study might soon suggest delaying gluten could be beneficial.
Indeed, just last week a small study* from the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research found that holding off on gluten until at least 12 months of age may postpone the onset of the autoimmune response that leads to celiac disease.
Did this latest news come as a frustrating blow? Not really. None of the research promises you can altogether avoid the risk of celiac through timing of gluten introduction. Plus, in the end, I hadn’t followed any particular guidance on gluten with either daughter.
Like other parents, my husband and I had to decide what felt right for us. And giving our girls gluten at 4 or 6 months of age seemed far too early. In fact, they didn’t get any solid foods until close to 8 months, and then it was rice cereal.
It wasn’t until my oldest daughter was 27 months old that she first had gluten. (She’s now almost four.) At snack time on her first day of preschool, she ate Nabisco graham crackers washed down with full-strength (undiluted) apple juice. I still wasn’t sure if it was the “right time” to start gluten and, a bit nervous, I considered sending her in with a gluten-free snack. But my husband, who doesn’t have celiac disease, felt firmly that she didn’t need a special snack when she didn’t technically have celiac disease or food allergy. She could now verbalize to us if she wasn’t feeling well, he argued. We’d keep a close eye on things.
Almost two years later, she continues to eat whatever they serve for snack at school. I always ask what she ate and sometimes find myself chuckling as she struggles to describe a different world of gluten-filled snack food. The other day, she told me she ate crackers that looked like wheels. They had tiny holes, too, she said. It took me a minute but then I realized: Ritz crackers. Sometimes she loves the snack (Nilla wafers), other times not so much (ginger snaps).
Outside of preschool, I continue to feed my daughter gluten-free food. Because she’s grown up on gluten-free food, she’s not fussy about slightly different textures or tastes. How many kids love a little garbanzo bean flour in their muffins?
My youngest daughter, approaching her 2nd birthday, is still gluten-free, except for the goldfish she found half-hidden in the mulch at the park last month. When I saw her shove the cheddar-flavored cracker into her mouth, I jumped into action, sweeping it out as if it were a cigarette butt. (I didn’t get all of it.)
My younger daughter will be going to preschool next fall and like her big sister, I’ll let her have her first (planned) bite of gluten at snack time. Even though it’s my second time through this experience, I’m still not entirely comfortable with it. But I’m not entirely comfortable with dropping her off at preschool for the first time either.
When did you first give gluten to your child?
*Sellitto M, Bai G, Serena G, Fricke WF, Sturgeon C, et al. (2012) Proof of Concept of Microbiome-Metabolome Analysis and Delayed Gluten Exposure on Celiac Disease Autoimmunity in Genetically At-Risk Infants. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033387 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0033387