Celiac Disease and Pregnancy Problems

Women living with celiac disease experience pregnancy problems and complications at two to four times the rate of people with vaginas who don't have the condition. It's possible, however, that following a careful gluten-free diet during pregnancy might help avert some of these problems.

Black doctor giving pregnant patient an ultrasound
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Research shows that people assigned female at birth who have celiac disease have higher rates of infertility and miscarriage if they haven't been diagnosed.

But it appears that celiac disease-related pregnancy problems don't end there. Research also indicates that those with celiac disease (mostly undiagnosed celiac disease) have higher rates of more than a half-dozen pregnancy complications including threatened miscarriage and severe iron deficiency anemia, when compared to other people with vaginas.

They also have shorter pregnancies, on average, and lower birth-weight babies.

Pregnancy Complications Affect Majority of Women With Celiac Disease

Pregnancy complications occur at a very high rate in people with celiac disease, according to a comprehensive Italian study of reproductive life disorders in people assigned female at birth. Some 65% of people with celiac disease reported at least one gestational disorder, compared to 31% of those without celiac who served as controls for the study. According to that study:

  • Severe anemia occurred most commonly, affecting 41% of people with celiac disease but only 2% of the control subjects.
  • "Threatened abortion," or threatened miscarriage, affected 39% of people with celiac disease, but only 9% of the non-celiac control group.
  • Placental abruption, a dangerous condition in which the placenta that nourishes the fetus begins to separate from the wall of the uterus, occurred in more than 18% of people diagnosed with celiac disease but only 1% of controls.
  • Gestational hypertension, also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, occurred in 10% of the group diagnosed with celiac disease and none of the control subjects.
  • Uterine hyperkinesia, or abnormal increased uterine muscle activity, also occurred in 10% of the people with celiac disease and in none of the control subjects.
  • Intrauterine growth restriction, a condition in which the fetus fails to grow at the proper rate, occurred in more than 6% of those with celiac disease but in no one from the control group.

About 85% of women who were in the study had not yet been diagnosed with celiac disease at the time of their pregnancies, and the authors speculated that following a gluten-free diet might avert pregnancy complications.

Risk of C-Sections and Low Birth-Weight Babies

Additional research has shown links between celiac disease and other potential pregnancy problems.

For example, the incidence of low birth-weight babies seems to be almost six times higher in people with celiac disease than in other women.

People with vaginas who are living with celiac disease tend to have shorter pregnancies—in the Italian study, a full two weeks shorter—which could be related to the incidence of low birth-weight babies.

Cesarean sections also may occur more frequently in people with celiac disease, which could be significant due to newer research indicating children born by C-section may themselves have a higher risk of celiac disease down the road.

However, not all medical research has confirmed higher rates of these complications and several studies have found little connection between celiac disease and pregnancy problems.

Most Problems Occur in Undiagnosed Women

Most of the celiac disease-related pregnancy problems seem to occur in people who have not yet been diagnosed with celiac, or in those who have been diagnosed but who are not following the gluten-free diet.

Like the Italian study, other studies have found similarly high rates of pregnancy complications in people with undiagnosed celiac disease, and also have concluded that following a gluten-free diet may help them avert future problem pregnancies.

For example, a study from India compared women with a history of normal pregnancies with women who had a history of reproductive problems, including unexplained intrauterine growth restriction, and found a higher rate of positive celiac disease blood tests and latent celiac disease in those who reported intrauterine growth restriction and other reproductive problems.

The researchers in that study concluded that healthcare providers should consider screening people with unexplained pregnancy problems and other reproductive issues for celiac disease since adhering to the gluten-free diet might help prevent future complications.

Should You Be Screened?

Many people who ultimately test positive for celiac disease show few classic signs of the condition, so it's difficult to say whether you should be screened for celiac if you've had pregnancy problems.

Women who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to have positive celiac disease tests, but they also occur in those without obvious gastrointestinal symptoms.

Ultimately, if you think undiagnosed celiac disease may be a possible cause for pregnancy problems you've had, especially if you have other celiac disease symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about having the celiac blood tests done.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Butler MM, Kenny LC, Mccarthy FP. Coeliac disease and pregnancy outcomes. Obstet Med. 2011;4(3):95-8. doi:10.1258/om.2011.110007

  2. Martinelli D, Fortunato F, Tafuri S, Germinario CA, Prato R. Reproductive life disorders in Italian celiac women. A case-control study. BMC Gastroenterol. 2010;10:89. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-10-89

  3. Kumar A, Meena M, Begum N, et al. Latent celiac disease in reproductive performance of women. Fertil Steril. 2011;95(3):922-7. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.11.005

  4. Domżał-magrowska D, Kowalski MK, Szcześniak P, Bulska M, Orszulak-michalak D, Małecka-panas E. The prevalence of celiac disease in patients with irritable bowel syndrome and its subtypes. Prz Gastroenterol. 2016;11(4):276-281. doi:10.5114/pg.2016.57941

Additional Reading
  • National Institutes of Health. Celiac Disease and Reproductive Problems.

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.