Celiac Disease In Babies – Everything You Need To Know

Written by Rakhee M • 

Celiac disease typically begins as an allergy to gluten that can lead to many complications for a baby. So, if your baby tends to vomit or suffer from diarrhea or display signs of allergies on eating certain grains, then chances are she suffers from Celiac disease.If your baby suffers from celiac disease, or you are looking for some information on it, consider reading our post below. Here we talk about celiac disease in babies and how it affects them.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a disorder where the body’s immune system reacts to gluten. Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, and barley. For people with celiac disease, the immune attack damages the intestinal walls [1].

The small intestine wall is lined with small projections known as villi, which aid nutrition absorption in the body. The presence of celiac disease affects the villi and lead to nutritional deficiency and other problems in children such as anemia, weak bones, and poor growth [2].

Causes Of Celiac Disease In Babies:

Scientists are still unsure of the precise cause of the condition. However, the most likely cause of celiac disease is hereditary. Certain genetic mutations may cause celiac disease in babies. External factors or some infections may trigger the condition [3].

[ Read: Wheat Allergy in Babies]

Symptoms Of Celiac Disease In Babies:

Certain symptoms may indicate that your child suffers from celiac disease. But your child may not exhibit all the symptoms [4].

If your baby suffers from celiac disease, she may have the following symptoms:

  • A swollen belly
  • Poor growth
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stunted growth [5]

Other Signs:

  • Weakness
  • Intestinal bloating and gas
  • Skin rash
  • Heartburn, acid reflux
  • Anemia
  • Poor bone growth
  • Poor spleen function
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue

It is easy to ignore the signs of celiac disease in babies as diarrhea or gas may appear to be normal for a newborn. But if your baby’s diarrhea persists for more than two weeks or she appears to be in pain, consult your pediatrician. Other signs you must look out for include, the appearance of a potbelly, poor growth, smelly stools and increased irritability.

Diagnosing Celiac Disease In Babies:

Timely diagnosis of the condition may make a huge difference to your celiac disease baby’s growth and overall health [6].

  • Some symptoms of celiac disease such as diarrhea may be same as that of irritable bowel syndrome. The doctor may order some tests to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease.
  • A blood test may reveal the presence of certain antibodies that may indicate an immune system reaction to gluten. Blood tests are very effective in diagnosing celiac disease even if your baby shows mild symptoms of the condition.
  • If the blood tests confirm that your child has celiac disease, the doctor may order an endoscopy to analyze the state of the villi. The doctor may also take a sample of the intestinal tissue for biopsy.

Treating Celiac Disease In Babies:

The only treatment for babies with celiac disease is to eliminate gluten from your their diet. In babies, you may notice signs of celiac disease only after you have introduced grains with gluten in your child’s diet. Depending on your child’s age and her gluten consumption so far, it may take a few weeks to months for her body to become completely gluten-free [7].

Those who suffer from celiac disease must remove the following foods from their diet:

  • Wheat and wheat byproducts such as spelt
  • All wheat varieties such as durum (a wheat variety), semolina (a durum wheat byproduct), bulgur, graham flour
  • Malt
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid grain)

[ Read: Buckwheat For Babies ]

Difference Between Celiac Disease And Wheat Allergy:

It is important to understand differences between celiac disease and wheat allergy for proper treatment of the patient [8].

Major Features:

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where gluten ingestion triggers an immune system attack on the small intestine. But wheat allergy can be an immune reaction to any number of proteins present in wheat including gluten.
  • Most gastrointestinal symptoms of both conditions are similar such as bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc. But other distinct symptoms of a wheat allergy are difficulty in breathing, hives, rash, eye irritation and nasal congestion. With a wheat allergy, there are no growth-related or neurological symptoms as present with celiac disease.
  • While people with celiac disease have to eat a gluten-free diet, those with a wheat allergy have to avoid eating only wheat.
  • Celiac disease often is for life, but children can often outgrow wheat and other food allergies.

*Note: An understanding of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may be useful to understand celiac disease.

  • Anyone who has NCGS may experience symptoms similar to celiac disease after gluten consumption. But the patient may not experience any villi damage as NCGS is not an autoimmune disorder.
  • The symptoms of NCGS resemble the gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease. Additional symptoms may be brain fog and lethargy. Some neurological symptoms and joint pain may also be present.
  • There are no diagnostic tests for NCGS. The diagnosis is confirmed by an exclusion test. Your child’s doctor may order tests or an elimination diet to confirm or reject diagnosis for one of the above conditions.

Guidelines for a Gluten-Free Diet:

After your baby’s celiac disease diagnosis, you need to plan a gluten-free diet for her. Once your baby is ready to eat solid food, you may introduce the following grains and cereals in her diet

  • Buckwheat
  • Sorghum
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Tapioca
  • Arrowroot

You can use the above flours to make nutritious porridge dishes for your baby.

[ Read: Gluten Free Recipes For Babies ]

A Word Of Caution:

If celiac disease runs in your family, consider the following points for the well-being of your child.

  • Breastfeeding your baby is important. But it doesn’t minimize the risk of celiac disease to your child. Talk to your doctor if you suspect your child has celiac disease.
  • Any delay in your baby’s gluten consumption doesn’t affect the onset of the condition. In fact, test for celiac disease is only possible once gluten is present in the body.
  • People with celiac disease can also suffer from other autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes or autoimmune liver problems. So, talk to your child’s doctor if you notice any additional symptoms in her.
  • People with celiac disease must avoid gluten. Your baby can lead a healthy life with some diet management on your part.

Do your children have celiac disease? How do you manage their symptoms and diet? Tell us here.

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