• coeliac disease;
  • growth retardation;
  • maternal age;
  • smoking

To investigate whether factors in the fetal or neonatal period influence the risk of later development of coeliac disease we conducted a population-based register study. The Swedish Medical Birth Register was linked with the Hospital Discharge Register and identified 3392 singleton infants born in the period 1987-97 who developed coeliac disease. Perinatal data for these children were compared with all children born in these years. Exposure variables: Maternal age, parity and smoking habits in early pregnancy, preeclampsia, pregnancy duration and birthweight, birthweight by gestational week, Apgar score, neonatal icterus, neonatal infections, maternal-fetal blood group incompatibility, exchange transfusion, phototherapy. Odds ratios and test-based confidence intervals were calculated. Analyses were made with stratification for year of birth and other risk factors. The risk of developing coeliac disease decreased with maternal age and was lower in first-born than in second-born children. Maternal smoking in early pregnancy was a weak risk factor, as was low birthweight. The most evident risk factors were being exposed to neonatal infections (OR = 1.52, confidence limits 1.19; 1.95) and being small for gestational age (OR = 1.45, confidence limits 1.20; 1.75). These risk factors were independent of each other.

Conclusions: We have demonstrated that the intrauterine environment, mainly as mirrored by a low birthweight for gestational age and, independently, neonatal infection diagnosis, is associated with the risk of developing coeliac disease, supporting the idea of a multifactorial aetiology of the disease.