Pregnancy is meant to be a time of happiness and hope. However, for women with celiac disease, complications can affect the health of both mom and baby.
“There are multiple complications that can arise in patients who have celiac disease and are pregnant,” says Dr. Mark Zyman, an OBGYN with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “For example, there are higher rates of miscarriage, preterm delivery and infant growth restriction.”
Many of these problems occur in women who have not yet been diagnosed with celiac disease, leading Dr. Zyman and other experts to recommend that if you have experienced signs of gluten intolerance, you should talk with your doctor about testing for the disease before becoming pregnant.
Signs of celiac disease in adults include gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, bone and joint pain, iron deficiency, arthritis, osteoporosis, erratic menstrual periods, depression and anxiety.
“Given the complications associated with celiac disease and pregnancy, it is advantageous to make the diagnosis before becoming pregnant, so as to have the disease in control at the time of pregnancy,” says Dr. Zyman.
The good news is that if you follow a gluten-free diet, you can greatly decrease the risk of pregnancy complications.
“It is very important that patients with celiac disease follow a strict gluten-free diet,” says Dr. Zyman. “The major sources of gluten are in wheat, rye and barley. Given that a gluten-free diet can lead to deficiency in certain nutrients, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and iron, you must ensure that you supplement your diet with foods high in these nutrients.”
Dr. Zyman also recommends that you take a gluten-free prenatal vitamin and consider supplementation with iron, folic acid, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. While fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, you should minimize your baby’s exposure to mercury by eating fish and shellfish that are low in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish, and avoiding shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
Dr. Zyman says that along with pregnancy complications, there is also an association between celiac disease and reproductive issues. These include late menarche (first menstruation) and early menopause, leading to a shortened fertile lifespan.
“If you experience recurrent pregnancy loss or unexplained infertility, speak with your doctor about being tested for celiac disease, which could be the reason for your complications,” he says.