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Introducing Wheat & Gluten

Gluten – a protein made up of glutenin and gliadin – is responsible for elasticity in bread dough.

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Gluten is found in cereal crops; wheat contains the highest amounts, but it is also contained in rye, barley and – in lower amounts – oats. Some babies may experience allergic reactions or digestive problems if they eat foods that contain gluten such as bread, flour, rusks and teething biscuits, pasta, etc.

Problems associated with wheat and gluten can include:

Wheat allergy

Wheat allergy should not be confused with wheat intolerance. Actual wheat allergy is not very common, and is the body’s immune system reacting to certain wheat proteins. It is quite easy to identify, assigns of a reaction usually appear within 2 hours – sometimes even within minutes – of a food containing wheat being eaten.

These signs may be:

  • hay fever – like symptoms (stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, etc.)
  • rashes
  • breathing problems – which can sometimes be severe

If your baby displays any of these symptoms – or any other symptoms -after eating a food containing wheat, you should seek immediate medical advice.

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Wheat or gluten intolerance
An intolerance is not the same as an allergy – it is a digestive problem that may occur when baby’s body has difficulty digesting certain foods. Wheat intolerance is more common than wheat allergy, and it can result in quite severe intestinal reactions.

A child may ‘grow out’ of some allergies but not of certain food intolerances – the problem food must be avoided throughout life.

If you suspect that your baby is sensitive to a particular food, consult your baby’s doctor or paediatrician.

Coeliac disease (also known as celiac disease, gluten enteropathy or gluten intolerance)

Coeliac disease is an intolerance of gluten, and is a serious condition that lasts throughout life. With coeliac disease the body’s immune system mistakenly treats gluten as something harmful,resulting in damage to the small intestine that prevents the processing of nutrients from other foods -thereby creating severe nutritional problems. Coeliac disease often runs in families, and sufferers must avoid wheat, barley, rye, oats, or any food containing them.

In a baby, the symptoms of coeliac disease may be noticed between 9 and 18 months of age, and may include:

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  • Anaemia
  • Dermatitis (itchy skin rash)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Malnutrition
  • Poor appetite
  • Stomach bloating
  • Weight loss or failure to gain weight

At what age should you introduce wheat and other foods that contain gluten to your baby?
The UK Department of Health advises that you should not introduce these foods before your baby is at least 6 months old- and they should NEVER be used as first weaning foods for a baby with a family history of coeliac disease or allergies.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association records that experts believe introducing gluten into a baby’s diet during his or her first 3 months increases by 5 times the risk of developing coeliac disease. The article also indicates that the risk is heightened if the introduction of gluten is delayed beyond 7 months of age.

Coeliac UK recommends giving foods containing gluten regularly – in normal, adequate amounts – after the age of 6 months. In this way, any adverse reactions can be easily identified, whereas if baby is given only small amounts of foods containing gluten – or they are given very infrequently – a pattern of symptoms may not be clear,so diagnosis may be delayed.

Make sure you only give your baby gluten-free products when he is under 6 months of age – and if you plan to use commercially produced weaning foods, check the labels carefully, as some do actually contain gluten. Best of all, make your baby’s food yourself – then you’ll know EXACTLY what it contains.

As with any new food, always ask for advice about wheat and gluten from your baby’s doctor or paediatrician BEFORE introducing them into your baby’s diet.

This information presented to you acts as a guide which contains researched information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.

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