Trends in health—and lactation—come and go; there is no doubt that looking at gluten as a culprit for various upsets is one of those current trends. Some people argue that everyone should be gluten-free, and people have suggested to breastfeeding moms that if their baby is fussy or gassy, maybe it’s the gluten in mom’s diet that is to blame. Is there evidence to back up this suggestion?
Here’s a question that everyone must decide for themselves: Which sources of information do you trust? A skeptic by nature, I am more likely to probe for more information than trust any sorce blindly. However, I am going to turn to conventional/Western/allopathic medicine for answers more likely than not. I trust the science and review process behind it more than the alternative (unconventional/natural approaches are rarely studied in a scientific manner and often make the proponents an awful lot of money). I use my powers of reasoning and critical thinking skills to help figure out whether advice and studies make practical sense.
Poking around for more information about things like whether or not gluten passes into breastmilk (gliadin, one component of gluten, does, but in very small quantities) and the incidence of gluten intolerance/sensitivity/whathaveyou in the population, I came up with information like:
- …human breast milk may contain exceedingly small amounts of gluten peptides. And what is there may have a protective effect on a baby, rather than a detrimental one. This information is from a dietician who specializes in gluten-free diets.
- This source says that (unpublished) data suggests up to 40% of the population is intolerant of gluten… but they’re also trying to sell you things like diagnostic tests. (Good rule of thumb, regardless of the type of modality we’re talking about: Use caution if someone is trying to sell you something.)
- This blog post says that, “Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, estimates some 6% of Americans have some degree of sensitivity to gluten. That is approximately 18 million people in the US alone.”
- The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center recommends that mothers breastfeed without removing gluten from their diets—even when a baby is at risk for celiac disease.
I live in an area where there are many people who believe strongly that a mother’s breastmilk is full of potentially damaging things and will readily suggest elimination diets (that is, eliminating one or more components of one’s diet to see what substance is causing the perceived issue). I am not one of those people, because there are people examining things like allergies and sensitivities in circumstances as controlled as they can and attempting to look at the data without bias and finding that, in the vast majority of cases, a mother’s diet and, thus, her breastmilk, is not a problem. The vast majority of breastfeeding dyads require no interventions, including eliminating food from the mother’s diet. Unfortunately, they’re subject to a lot of them, and we live in a society where, at nearly every turn, a mother is given reason to call into doubt her ability to successfully breastfeed her baby.
If a baby is showing actual signs of intolerance (these are more than just fussiness, gas, spitting up, or other mild symptoms) to something that may be linked to a mother’s diet, that is one thing. However, there are many, many lactation experts who will tell that it’s far more likely that a baby is being a normal baby than a baby is intolerant to something in a mother’s diet, and that it’s time we go back to trusting a mother’s ability to breastfeed her baby without intervention.
- Gluten in breastmilk is almost always innocuous and may even be protective.
- Regardless of the type of practitioner you visit, you’re allowed to do your own research, make your own decisions, and decide how your money is spent.
- The best person to go to for advice about breastfeeding is someone with specific training in lactation who keeps up-to-date on the latest information.