When we first got Samarah, we dealt with a lot of tummy issues with her. Mostly, once I was able to get her off the nasty formula and repair the “damage,” she was good to go. And by good to go, I mean she is my child with zero stomach issues. But I do have a child who has some pretty harsh gut issues, and after writing about it briefly HERE, many people reached out wanting to know more, what I am doing, etc. So I put together a toddler gut issues post for you – for any and all of you mamas out there who are currently just frozen, watching your babies in pain.
Updated in 2019 to add: See Gutsy Children.
Toddler Gut Issues
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First of all, what does that mean – “toddler gut issues?”
It can mean many things, but for most mothers I’ve talked to it means the same as the women I work with: constipation, diarrhea, or alternating constipation and diarrhea.
No one really ever asks me, “But how would I know?,” because usually, it’s very apparent. Just in case, though, here are some signs and symptoms you would likely notice:
- No bowel movement for 1-2 days or more, and ongoing for at least a month.
- A bloated stomach.
- Screaming with bowel movements and/or butt rashes that appear almost instantly.
- Crabby and irritable (more than usual).
- Body rashes and other skin irritations.
But then again, please do remember that symptoms can be found outside the gut.
Here is what happened in Isaiah’s case.
I noticed something almost immediately upon getting him. He wasn’t processing dairy, and one day we gave him a little avocado and he kept throwing up all morning. We brushed it off, thinking it must have just been the dairy, so we switched him to a non-dairy formula.
As Isaiah got older and went off formula, we just (mostly) removed dairy. I was told by several African-American women that they never did and never will tolerate dairy, so our children would likely be the same.
I’m no dummy when it comes to dairy. I know that most people do not tolerate it, and I also know that not having it in the everyday diet is not the ohmygosh huge deal that pediatricians like to make you think it is.
But even when we only removed dairy (I did not want to start excluding a ton of food groups for him), he didn’t get better.
I would do things here and there, but never did any sort of full elimination diet. Why? Because I started having him go through testing. The problem with that? The GI doctor we went to was doing tests that made zero sense to me. Blood draw after blood draw and poop sample after poop sample and I was all, “No. Just no.” All his tests came back normal, mostly.
While going through the testing, we let him eat most things (limited the dairy) because I wanted the tests to be accurate.
And it was miserable. Absolutely miserable. Not only were we not getting any answers or any real help, but Isaiah was in a ton of pain and misery. Major bloat, then diarrhea, and in horrible spirits.
About a month (maybe a little more – I can’t keep up with day-to-day anymore) ago one Friday night, we decided, “Let’s do homemade pizza night for the kids.” So we made them all pizza and stuck to the usual for Isaiah – all the same things as the girls, except no cheese on his.
He ate the whole thing – his entire pizza.
All weekend long, we all paid the price, namely Isaiah (and Ryan because he had to change the diapers). Isaiah’s stomach went crazy. He couldn’t stop going to the bathroom. He screamed a lot. He’s 2.5-years-old, but that weekend had several blowouts – all over – requiring immediate bath sessions. There were rashes and all-out tantrums. When he needed a change, Ryan had to do it because I could not keep him down. Little booger is strong as heck.
That Sunday night I sarcastically said to Ryan, “Yup. Dairy, it must have been the dairy.”
Every single gut intuition I had been having since we first got Isaiah started to surface, and I told Ryan, “I’m done. No more. Now it’s my turn to try to help Isaiah.”
I immediately emailed my doctor’s admin to see if he could see Isaiah. He doesn’t work with children, but they recommended someone else at the Institute who does see children. The only problem? Not taking new clients right now.
I made the decision to work on an elimination diet with Isaiah, and then, once my intuitions had been confirmed, I’d work to find a new doctor for Isaiah – one who was in line with the doctor I see, even if it meant we would pay out of pocket.
Sidebar to this: I still believe everything I said when I wrote Please Don’t Feed My Baby a few years back. Making this decision was not an easy one for Ryan and I. We did not want Isaiah to have to limit his food options. We do want to be the “normal” parents, but if normal means sick and miserable, then we’re totally cool with going against the normal grain, getting eye rolls, and anything else it might mean.
What We Did to Address Toddler Gut Issues
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Note: You should not do this with your child without working with someone qualified or consulting with a doctor. I am not telling you that this is what you should do because your child is different than mine. I would not have gone this route with Samarah because she and Isaiah are very different, and you need to make sure you take the route that is right for your own toddler. Also, unless absolutely critical, I still also believe that children should not be on special diets.
- Removed all dairy.
- Removed all gluten.
- Removed all processed foods.
- Removed all FODMAP foods.
- Removed all corn.
- Removed all nuts.
- Removed all soy.
- Removed all eggs. (Actually, this one I didn’t do initially, but when he started eating more eggs to compensate for other losses, he reacted, so we completely removed.)
- No, I didn’t remove all grains. I chose to keep rice-based grains in his diet (all from Lotus Foods; Rice Ramen, Rice, and Pad Thai Noodles).
- Introduced Cod Liver Oil.
- Added sauerkraut, whenever I had it stocked at home.
- Ate a lot of my AIP Bread (not only does he love it, but it’s infused with gelatin).
- Added Bone Broth more often.
Began adding things back into his diet, one food at a time, as testing tools. Some of these included….
- sweet potatoes
- corn tortillas
- goat cheese
- various nuts
- new fruits (kiwi, oranges, pineapple)
This is where we are today.
- Permanently (for now) keeping some of the things back in his diet, as he tolerated them. Ex. sweet potatoes, but 1/2 cup or less per sitting.
- Still no gluten or many of the things we eliminated in the beginning. In due time, I may consider strict testing days of them.
- Continue adding new foods, and trying out some of the old foods we thought he was reacting to (ex. eggs).
- Searching and researching a doctor like mine who will work with toddlers.
Within just a few days of starting, Isaiah began healing. Literally. His diaper changes became fewer and normalized; his rashes began to go away. It was amazing! But the most unreal thing that happened was how his demeanor changed. Early that following week, his nanny told me how well behaved he was, and how she couldn’t believe it. She made a comment that when they were at the park, he was playing so well, so quietly that the other mothers were even commenting on his behavior.
When my mom and then mother and father-in-law were recently visiting, they noted these same things about Isaiah.
Don’t get me wrong, he is still a typical 2 1/2 year old with all his own -isms from time-to-time, but who he is now and who he was prior to our diet changes is night and day, drastically different.
A typical day of eats for Isaiah
Here’s the big one that everyone wants to know, so I’ll share. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but rather a general idea of our day-to-day. I share a ton of our meals and snacks via Instagram Stories on both sarahkayhoffman + agutsygirl, if you want to follow along there.
Any (but not all, usually) of the following:
- scrambled eggs fried in olive oil, coconut oil or Buttery Coconut Oil (yes, butter without the dairy and it rocks this house!)
- melted goat cheese (small amount) stuffed inside a corn tortilla
- a meat of sorts
- Good Karma milk
- special smoothies like this one
- rice, ramen, or pad thai
- “mommy’s special sauce” (that’s literally what my kids call it) = Big Tree Farms Coconut Aminos
- a meat or fish of sorts
- green beans or baby carrots
Isaiah always eats what we eat, except that sometimes I substitute things in or out for him.
- same as lunch
- whole, roasted chicken
- root vegetables (he can have most, but not all of these)
- baby red potatoes (we love to roast these with green beans – smothered in an oil)
- kale chips
- Cheesy Tuna Casserole (and other meals like this that I’ve created on my blog over the years)
Last night, for example, his meal consisted of a huge bowl of rice, ground beef, coconut oil, and a few slivers of avocado. Sunday night he had a huge bowl of bone broth with Brown Rice Pad Thai Noodles, ground lamb, green beans, and a few tablespoons of cauliflower rice.
Snacks + Miscellaneous
- that AIP Bread I mentioned above (and mention online approximately 1,234 times per week) – he’s obsessed – we all are, so I try to make a couple batches each week (and it only lasts a couple days, if that)
- Trader Joe’s plantain chips
- Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers
- nuts (walnuts, pecans, some almonds, some peanuts – still toying with this one)
- nut butters – A Loving Spoon – obv, Nikki’s + Nutiva
- hot dogs – seriously, Organic Valley Hot Dogs
- Pork Rinds
- nutritional yeast (= his “cheese”)
- some fruit (oranges, always bananas – see breakfast, kiwi)
- mama’s “nice cream” (variations of and including frozen bananas, full-fat coconut milk, collagen, gelatin, L-Glutamine, 100% raw cacao, mint, other fruits, hempseeds, chia seeds, nut butters)
- GoMacro Bars. This is a new one I discovered for Isaiah. I like them for him because they have a lot of calories, and are a good on-the-go option for us. We started with the Prolonged Power, and he did well with it.
- baby carrots (he loves munching on these – just plain, and to make it more fun, sometimes I’ll buy the organic colored ones)
- various Made in Nature dried fruit
Being at home, in his comfort zone is the easy part. Going out to eat, over to friend’s houses, and just being on-the-go in general is not easy.
A couple weeks back, we went to a birthday party, so before we went, we filled him up so he wouldn’t be as hungry. Then, when we got there, we made sure to grab a plateful of the things he could have. Ryan sat with him, and they ate until he was too full to care about food. And off he went to play!
We have been going out to eat quite a bit lately, and when we do, ordering for him is sort of like ordering for me. I am just very particular, and I make sure to ask all the questions.
On Halloween, instead of eating his Trick-or-Treat candy, I did a swap with him. Of course, I don’t let him have candy on a daily basis, but he is a kid – and I’m not going to ban him from everything. I took his candy, and in return, he sat at the table with a handful of Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips and a pack of YumEarth fruit snacks. He wanted more than what I gave him that night, but we kept it to a small amount, and then told him if he was hungry he could have something else – which he did, and ended the night with a Good Karma nightcap 🙂
Navigating this has been frustrating (I didn’t think I’d ever have to do it for anyone but myself), but for me, it’s been easy and worth it – I’ve spent the last 10+ years studying, learning, and applying all the gut stuff to myself and my clients. Now it’s time to focus on it for Isaiah…….annnnnnddddddd Amiya (a whole other story for an entirely different day – but yes, she is showing some of these very same symptoms Isaiah had). Sigh.
Questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’m sure there are many things I’m forgetting, but I at least wanted to help give a starting place for my mama friends who might need it.
p.s. In case anyone was worried that Isaiah would become frail and lose too much weight from all this (pssshtttt) – I’ll have you know that for both height and weight, he is in the 85th+ percentile. The little tank that could, and will, because his gut is healing.
You will heal. I will help.