Because of the way gluten intolerance impacts the body it isn’t too surprising that there are increased risks with gluten intolerance and pregnancy. Specifically, women with gluten intolerance can have issues with infertility and carrying a fetus to term.
In this article we’ll take a look at the link between gluten intolerance and infertility, how a gluten-free diet can reduce risks associated with pregnancy and celiac disease and we’ll also share a list of 10 things you can do increase your chances of having a healthy, happy pregnancy.
Gluten Intolerance and Infertility
Some of the celiac disease symptoms seem directly related to fertility issues. Gluten intolerance symptoms can include late onset menstruation, infrequent periods and early onset menopause. But it’s important to know that celiac disease impacts fertility in men as well as women.
While the exact cause of celiac disease and infertility isn’t fully understood, there definitely seems to be a correlation between them. Studies in Europe and the United States show that celiac disease is more prevalent in groups of men and women with unexplained infertility than in the general population.
The two most common themes relating to infertility and celiac disease appear to be with unexplained infertility in both women and men and high rates of miscarriages in women. Anyone diagnosed with unexplained infertility who is trying to conceive should have a celiac screening or a gluten intolerance test. The same is true for women who have had more than one unexplained miscarriage. Some people may find they have silent celiac disease; since they didn’t have typical symptoms they may have been undiagnosed until discovering the infertility issues.
The exact cause of infertility and celiac disease isn’t fully understood, but there are a few possible factors that may play a role. It may stem from nutritional imbalances or malabsorption of micronutrients that are needed to metabolize hormones. Another possibility is that the autoimmune response experienced by people with celiac disease (where the body basically attacks itself) may trigger immunological, nutritional and hormonal abnormalities.
On the positive side most people with celiac disease and fertility issues who start and adhere to a strict gluten-free diet are able to conceive and have a healthy baby. A gluten-free diet may be necessary for up to a year before being able to successfully conceive, but for some couples it can happen sooner than this. Many people report that after 9 months they successfully conceived.
The Importance of a Gluten-Free Diet During Pregnancy
While gluten sensitivity can impact pregnancy, don’t think that if you have celiac disease that you can’t have children. Many women with celiac disease have happily and successfully given birth. The key to an uneventful pregnancy and a healthy baby is to carefully follow a gluten-free diet.
Anyone with gluten intolerance symptoms should always adhere to a gluten-free diet, but this is especially important if you want to have a successful pregnancy. This may seem difficult both because of the cravings and because some women don’t react as strongly to gluten while they are pregnant.
When women are pregnant their immune system is suppressed to allow the baby to be carried to term, so the immune system reaction to gluten may not be as strong during pregnancy. Some women experience latent celiac disease, where the symptoms appear to go away during pregnancy. This doesn’t mean you should start eating gluten though. With this type of diagnosis it is important to always remain gluten free.
To learn more about what gluten is and what foods contain gluten, besides the obvious ones, read my article: What Is Gluten?
Keys to a Successful Pregnancy
If you have celiac disease, taking some time to understand the relationship between gluten intolerance and pregnancy before you become pregnant can help you conceive and then experience a healthier pregnancy. Having a better understanding of both celiac disease and pregnancy can help empower you to be healthier during and after pregnancy. To get you started here are a few things you can do to lower your risks during pregnancy:
- Consult with your OBGYN. Let your gynecologist know that you want to have a child and get his or her input on things you can do to reduce your risks. If you’ve had trouble conceiving they may also be able to do some testing to determine hormone levels and give you some input on your ability to become pregnant.
- Follow a strict gluten-free diet well before you plan on conceiving. By avoiding gluten you can allow your intestines to heal and your body to regain vital nutrients. Stock your gluten free pantry with your favorite items so when those cravings hit you can make or find gluten-free foods in your pantry.
- Begin taking folic acid supplements 3 months before conception. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects such as Spina Bifida.
- During the pregnancy stick to your gluten-free diet. Be careful of cross-contamination with foods that are prepared for others that may contain gluten.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can be the cause of many pregnancy complications, including celiac disease constipation.
- Eat even if you don’t feel hungry. Do your best to eat healthy meals each day. Try eating smaller meals more often. Juicing vegetables can also be a great way to get in extra nutrients.
- Reduce stress as much as possible.
- Eliminate alcohol during pregnancy.
- Do not smoke during pregnancy.
- Once the baby is born, continue to follow a strict gluten free diet. This is even more important if you decide to breastfeed your child.
Watch For Gluten Intolerance In Your Children
Because this condition is hereditary it is important to watch for signs of gluten intolerance in children as your baby grows and develops. Your child will have a great advantage if you understand how gluten intolerance manifests in children and you get them on a gluten-free diet if necessary before they have to experience too many of the symptoms and the consequences.
Celiac disease is a serious condition that can negatively impact fertility and pregnancy. Fortunately following a strict gluten free diet can significantly reduce the risks. Talk with your doctor about gluten intolerance and pregnancy and together you can develop a comprehensive plan to ensure a healthy and successful pregnancy.