When your youngster is not sleeping, feeding properly or is in distress, you need to look for clues of what is going on. A Mum's natural instinct is pretty sharp, and many mummies quickly make the connection between what they see in their little one's nappies and their feeding patterns, mood and sleep. Good gut health is fundamental to your child’s well-being and health, and getting this right can be one of the most important steps to a happy, healthy and robust child.
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The Key Signs of an Out of Sync Gut:
A child’s poo should not smell bad! If a poo smells acrid, yeasty or pungent then there is trouble in the tummy. If the smell only happens from time to time, it may well be linked to a mild infection or teething, but if it seems to be fairly constant, then this needs to be investigated further. Beneficial bacteria (AKA probiotics) can really help here and there are some great foods that naturally help build up healthy levels of good bacteria, see my gut friendly food list at the end of this blog.
Once weaning has been established, the poo should change from a yellowy ochre colour, to a mid-brown hazelnut colour. Sometimes specialist baby formulas can give the poo a green or dark hue, but those who are on standard cow’s milk formula or those who are breast fed should become brown fairly soon after the six-month mark.
Very dark stools can be due to constipation, and black stools need to be investigated by your paediatrician as this may indicate blood in the stool. If you ever see blood or mucous in the stool or nappy, then please see your doctor as soon as possible.
Stools that continue to remain pale and yellow after weaning may indicate a problem with absorption of fats called Steatorrhea. The usual cause of this is coeliac disease (an autoimmune reaction to eating wheat/gluten) or malabsorption and again should be checked out by your doctor.
If the contents of your little one's nappy are multi-coloured from undigested foods, then this is a sign of poor digestive enzyme production and your child is not extracting all the nutrition from the food they are eating. If it just certain foods that you are seeing in the poo such as raisins, then this means that you may want to wait a while before giving these foods again or you may want to only give these foods blended up.
If the colour of your child’s poo is constantly changing or if the poo is the colour of the food that they have recently eaten, then again they need help with their digestion. This situation is common in babies with a slightly immature gut (this is most common in premature babies). If this is happening to your child, then may need to slow up a little on the weaning. You may want to slow cook and blend the food more than usual to help your baby digest and absorb their food more easily. This means they can get the most nutrients from the food they are eating until their gut is ready to take chunkier food.
Tummy pain is the main reason babies don’t sleep; this may be caused by burning acid in the throat or from regurgitated milk. It also may be due to excess wind in the tummy (look out for lots of gas, belching or hiccupping). Many babies and toddlers strain to push a poo out and can get very bunged up, which can also cause pain and maybe why they are unsettled or crabby.
Signs they are in pain can include constant crying, refusal to sleep on their back and wanting to sleep rolled up in a ball, sleeping propped up or with their tummy pressed against something comfortable like a pillow or your thigh! If this becomes the norm for your child, then do seek advice from your doctor or an experienced naturopath.
Bloating, belching or smelly wind are subtler signs that your little one needs some help with their gut. Once your child gets to about two years old, they should have a flat tummy, so if the bloating continues then this is a big sign that fermentation is happening in the gut and it is out of sync. Again probiotics can often help here, as can cutting back on sugar and yeasty foods.
If your child has more than three dirty nappies a day or less than one every day, it is also important to establish what is going on.
A gut working on overdrive can mean that food is passing through the body too quickly and that the uptake of nutrients can be compromised. Please do not ever get fobbed off by anyone saying that ongoing toddler diarrhoea is OK, as it may well be a lingering infection, food intolerance or even your child may be lacking in good gut bacteria. This can probably be resolved quite quickly with the help of a good naturopath and you will probably find you have a happier, stronger child once this is sorted out.
On the flip side, a sluggish bowel can lead to constipation, irritability and general grouchiness. If this continues in the long term and may make potty training much, much harder and associated difficult behaviours can kick in. Again some small dietary steps taken daily can help to prevent this becoming a problem such as adding prunes, chia seeds and flax seeds to porridge.
Once weaning has been fully established, you should easily be able to roll the contents of a nappy into the toilet and the stool should be a mid-brown hazelnut colour. The Bristol stool chart is the gold standard visual way of knowing about the health of your child’s gut. You are looking to try and achieve Type 3 and 4: smooth, sausage like and mid-brown. Any harder this is classed as constipation and any softer they are heading towards diarrhoea.
Gut Friendly Foods
Here is a list of foods that can help to encourage a healthy gut. Some are soothing and comforting, and others help to feed to microbes that are beneficial to the digestive system (known as prebiotics and probiotics):
Bone broth: cook up some lovely chicken or beef stock with some carrots, celery and herbs. Let it bubble away in the bottom of your oven overnight, and you will have a gorgeous nourishing broth that is really kind and soothing to your little one's gut. Give as soup or use in risotto, bolognaise or cook with lentils.
Fermented foods: natural yoghurt, kefir (cow, goat, almond or coconut), sauerkraut and mild kimchi.
Herbs: fennel, peppermint, ginger, licorice and cardamom all make lovely teas that are soothing on a sore and windy tum.
Vegetables: red cabbage, spinach, red onions, broccoli, garlic, onion, leek, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, beetroot, beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots (red, purple and orange), potatoes (red and purple), sweet potato
Fruits: apples (red), bananas, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, plums, raspberries, black grapes and blackcurrants
Nuts & Seeds: flax seed (linseeds), chestnut flour, ground pecans and almonds. Almond, hazelnut and cashew nut butter. Ground pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Grains: black rice, brown rice, oats and buckwheat.
Legumes: haricot beans, flageolet beans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, split peas and adzuki beans