It’s crucial that coeliacs adopt a strict gluten free diet if they are to avoid further symptoms and stay healthy – this applies to people of all age groups and includes babies and young children.

Parents especially, must understand the disease and be able to communicate the life changing nature of the condition to their child. This will ensure they know exactly what they can eat and the consequences if they don’t stick to the correct diet.

Coeliac disease affects around 1 in 100 people in the UK. There is no cure however, educating and supporting your child will mean that further down the line they will be less likely to suffer from complications such as Osteoporosis, malnutrition, lactose intolerance and in more serious cases, bowel cancer.

From the initial diagnosis it’s important to make sure your child is aware what the disease is and how they have to manage it now and in the future: from preparing meals at home, school and time spent out of your supervision such as friend’s birthday parties. It doesn’t have to be daunting for them, just some useful tips and reminders it is also normal to be on a gluten free diet.

Noticing the symptoms and getting your child diagnosed

A majority of young children who are diagnosed with coeliac disease are between six months and two years old, around the time they begin to eat foods that contain gluten. Symptoms differ between newborn babies and children who are slightly older.

For babies look out for:

  • A swollen stomach
  • Pale poo
  • Lack of growth and weight gain

Symptoms to look out for in children include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle wasting
  • Poor appetite
  • Abdominal distension
  • Tiredness and breathlessness caused by anaemia
  • Emotional distress

If you notice your child is experiencing these symptoms and sense any sort of irritability you should contact your GP immediately. However you shouldn’t cut gluten from their diet without a proper diagnosis.

The doctor will conduct a blood test to see if coeliac disease antibodies are in your child’s blood, and if they are, a biopsy will be carried out by a gastroenterologist in a hospital to confirm the diagnosis.

During the biopsy, an endoscope is inserted into the mouth and passed down to the small intestine to take a sample which is then inspected under a microscope for signs of coeliac disease – this is a safe, non-surgical procedure.

Additionally, the child may be subject to tests that check the blood for levels of iron and other vitamins and minerals – this helps determine if the disease has led to the onset of anaemia, a result of poor digestion.

During this time period it’s vital that your child continues to eat gluten as eliminating it from their diet it could result in an incorrect diagnosis.

What to do if your child is diagnosed as coeliac

All is not lost if your child has been diagnosed as coeliac as there are still plenty of delicious foods you can give them to ensure they stay healthy and avoid the symptoms listed above.

Take a look at our range of products available in supermarkets or our Warburtons Gluten Free pharmacy products to see just how much variety is available on a gluten free diet – we’ve also got loads of tasty recipe ideas that your children will love.

Explain what coeliac disease is to your children

It’s important to explain coeliac disease to your child, including how gluten affects their bodies and the foods they should avoid.

You need to make sure they know which types of food are appropriate for them – the main ones being bread and pasta which contain wheat, rye and barley, but if the diet is new to the whole family, you should get everyone - including brothers and sisters - involved so everyone understands as much as they can about it.

Do this in a way you feel will benefit them most, try making up some activities such as games and quizzes to make the learning as enjoyable as possible. You may also want to add labels to products suitable for them and ones they cannot. Using red stickers could show they cannot have it, but using green or smiley stickers shows they can have it.

Maintaining a gluten free diet at home

As a family eating well and stocking healthy, unprocessed foods is beneficial for you all and should make it easier to keep the child on the same diet as you. Natural foods such as fruit, vegetables and meats are gluten free, but always check the meat ingredients label as some sausages, burgers and meats with sauces may contain.

If your child is older, it could be good practice to get them read nutrition labels and look for the bold allergens in the ingredients list after you go shopping, or during your shopping trip.

We've put together a handy meal plan you can follow to make sure your child gets the nutrients they require and enjoy delicious meals:

Find the recipes included in the plan:

Maintaining a gluten free diet when they’re at school

It’s important to notify the appropriate staff members at your child’s school about their needs –especially if they’re in the first year, are moving up a year, or to a new school altogether. This will ensure they are accommodated for.

You can download our letter template to send to your child's school to notify their teachers that they are a coeliac diease suffer - it contains all the information they need to help them understand the condition, ensure they cater for their needs and points them in the direction of some of our guides. 

Take a look at the ‘Coeliac disease in school’ information pack from Coeliac UK for more information.