I have encountered numerous advices issued by different countries against this, and not only that, but paediatricians and scientific studies that advice the exact opposite as gluten intolerance was found to happen more frequently for those starting this early with gluten.
The Swedish National Food Agency mentions in their Guide as ”Good food for infants under one” (you can download it here in English):
If your child gets small amounts of gluten while he or she is still being breastfed, the risk of becoming gluten intolerant decreases. By four months at the earliest, and six months at the latest, you should therefore start giving your child a little food with gluten.Livsmedelsverket, Uppsala, September 2012
Studies Proving Wrong to the Swedish System
The article ”Randomized Feeding Intervention in Infants at High Risk for Celiac Disease” from October 2014 (see full article here), where 944 children with an elevated risk for celiac disease were randomised to receive either gluten or placebo between 4 and 6 months of age. They really tested in the best way whether early gluten exposure prevents gluten intolerance.
The result? Nothing changed. The children given gluten had just as high a frequency of gluten intolerance, and there was even a non-significant trend towards their showing gluten intolerance more often.
Another study, ”Introduction of Gluten, HLA Status, and the Risk of Celiac Disease in Children” also from October 2014 (see full article here), where 832 children with celiac disease in the family were randomized to receive advice on gluten from either 6 months or 12 months of age.
At two years of age 12 % of the children given advice on gluten from 6 months of age were gluten intolerant. Only 5 % of those who didn’t introduce gluten until 12 months of age developed gluten intolerance – less than half, a difference that was highly statistically significant.
The advice on postponing gluten intake until 12 months of age more than halved the risk of becoming gluten intolerant!
What’s with Sweden and gluten intolerance?
A report from spring 2014 examined the genetic and environmental factors of celiac disease confirmed that Swedish children have a uniquely higher risk of developing gluten intolerance than those of other countries, the risk is twice as high for Swedish children, at 3 percent, than it is for American children.
The international study observed more than 6,400 children over a five year period in Sweden, Finland, Germany and the USA and was the first study this large to look internationally at the subject.
“It seems that multiple dietary factors, including patterns of breast-feeding and gluten exposure, could be responsible for the greater incidence of celiac disease in Sweden than in other populations with similar genetic predisposition to the condition,” the authors of the article wrote.
Lund University studies the same issue over again in 2016 (link here): ”In Sweden, statistics show that the incidence of the disease among small children is rising again and that approximately two per cent of the total population have developed celiac disease. Studies through the screening of the general population show a higher incidence of the disease at a young age and that there may be a large number of unreported cases.”
The findings indicate that the amount of gluten is what triggers the disease. But the fact that is introduced as early as 4 months, definitely plays an important role in the amount of gluten consumed by the average child in Sweden when compared to other places. It seems like the system still sticks to the 1980s advice despite the amount of studies.
Midwives are still outdated
When we had our check-up with Astrid few days ago, the midwife asked me if I already started to introduce gluten in her diet and that probably I should start thinking about doing it soon so she doesn’t get an intolerance later on. I won’t criticise fully the midwife, even though as a professional she should stay up to date and realize the advice given does more harm than good, but ultimately is the system that fails us here.
Sweden’s relationship with wheat comes in many shapes and we need to be extremely careful of her not getting just too much of it. The Fika culture encourages not only sipping on coffee but also muchin’ on pastries. While Fika is every single day (and you can see how everyone almost takes it religiously here), there is also the tradition of Lördagsgodis (read about it here) that comes in with a bad influence as well.
My take on it for a 4 1/2 months old baby
If you want your child to eat something more aside from the milk given after 4 months of age here are few tips that I found helpful:
- Add apple and pear as first fruits
- Add carrot, pea and potato as first veggies
- Start mixing them after doing trial with them (allow few days if not a week per food to see if there is any allergy)
- Add egg yolk to the veggie purees with a small pinch of unrefined salt (such as Celtic Sea Salt)
- Blend purees with breastmilk or formula milk instead of water
- Towards 5 1/2 months of age you can try to add some liver (I froze it and then cook it for her) mixed with egg yolk
- Avoid giving your baby (if you are of European origin) banana, mango, avocado – we do not thrive on these foods and their introduction is useless if the child is being properly fed with good milk, eggs, butter and local fruits and vegetables
- Always use organic produce
A little bit crazy, isn’t it? I must say I was expecting to find a lot of contradictory information but basically it’s just an unjustified Swedish system statement (give your baby gluten starting 4 months) versus a bunch of newly made studies that clearly conclude the opposite. To this, we also add the statement of Weston Price Foundation on the matter ”Babies do not produce the needed enzymes to handle cereals, especially gluten-containing grains like wheat, before the age of one year. Even then, it is a common traditional practice to soak grains in water and a little yogurt or buttermilk for up to 24 hours. ”
Most importantly, learn what your baby needs based on their behaviour and their ancestral feeding. We are planning to feed Astrid with European foods and accustom her to the produce of the land here as it’s been forever. Banana, avocado, mango, pineapple, etc. are fruits that have not been familiar to us and even the generation of my parents did not know about them (as growing up in Communist Eastern Europe where imports were banned) – yet they have thrived and been probably healthier with less complicated sugar than the generations to come.
To finish, there is actually no product in Sweden at the moment that offers gluten free cereals for babies. I will, nonetheless, prepare some homemade creams for Astrid that I will showcase here if you are interested in making your own.