The fantastic Up All Hours website has asked me to be part of their health expert panel. Up All Hours is a wonderful community for imperfect parents! I will be writing several blogs for them over the next few months, so do stay tuned. Here is a post I have written to help parents work out why little ones keep them up all night! There is also an audio recording so you can listen in, even when you have your hands full.
Are you tearing your hair out because your child is not eating properly or their sleep patterns are terrible? Hear how trouble in the tummy may be the root cause.
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As adults we carry on eating when we have gut discomfort, but kids with tummy pain have an in-built off button for food, even when they are only mildly under the weather. Low grade nausea or gut pain are the key reasons why a little one can suddenly stop eating. A child with a long term sore tummy is usually very picky with their food and will only eat a very limited diet. Very often the diet of choice for a toddler with a chronic sore tummy will be toast, crackers, bananas and yoghurt. Sound familiar?
Pain is the main reason babies and toddlers wake up at night. If you rule out teething or an ear infection then it is probably their tummy that is waking them up. If your little one wakes up crying 15 minutes, 45 minutes or even a few hours after going to bed then this is probably due to some sort of gut pain. One of the reasons little ones may like to feed frequently at night, or suck on a pacifier when settling is to help soothe their uncomfortable little belly.
Typically an out-of-sync gut has pretty obvious symptoms. These signs include dark, green, smelly or even explosive poo. Nappy contents can be multi-coloured and full of undigested food and this is a sign of poor digestive enzyme production. Yellow, fatty stools are signs of poor absorption. Upper gastric pain, which is the main reason why babies don’t sleep, maybe from burning acid in the throat or from regurgitated milk. Many babies and toddlers strain to push a poo out and a congested bowel is very common.
There may also be more subtle signs from your little one such as bloating, belching, trapped gas or smelly wind. Also look out for seemingly unrelated issues such as persistent coughs, wheezing or itchy skin as these often stem from an out-sync gut function. These problems are often due to a condition called leaky gut.
Other signs your baby or toddler has a sore tummy can be that they only want to sleep curled up in a ball or on flat on their front. During the day they might spend lots of time leaning over sofas or tables or simply lying on the floor, as this pressure can often relief the tummy pain for a while.
Once weaning onto solids 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. Anything else then there will probably be something out-of-sync. If your six month plus baby or toddler has more than three dirty nappies a day or less than one every day it is also important to establish what is going on.
All kids get a sore tummy from time to time. Most of the time intestinal pain will pass very quickly, but very often it can be extremely disruptive and last for hours or even occur every day. I saw a young girl only today in my clinic who has had a terrible sore tummy at least three times a day for five years(!!) and this is the first time her mum has sought advice! If a child gets sore tummies for more than two weeks then it is important to check this out with your GP. If you see any blood or mucous please see your GP immediately.
If your GP gives your child the all clear, and you are still worried, then you may need to think out of the box if you want to have a contented child with a comfy tummy. Diet, digestion, the wrong balance of gut bacteria and low grade inflammation can be reasons why your little one is continuing to complain of a sore tummy and I highly recommend making an appointment with a local naturopath or nutritional therapist who can arrange further advice and testing.
Here are some tips to help your little one to ease their tummy pain until you can work out the underlying cause:
Drink cooled fennel tea. Fennel tea is wonderful at helping to soothe a sore and gassy tummy. It can be given to a baby even from when they are only a few weeks old.
Slippery Elm is a gorgeous herb that is highly nutritious and also comforting for little ones tummies. Mix ½ teaspoon in some baby milk or add to baby food once or twice a day.
Bone Broth (which is fresh chicken stock cooked for at least twelve hours) is one of the best gut friendly foods and wonderful for those with a small appetite or gut pain. It is a brilliant all round food for kids’ health and should be included in your children’s diet regardless. Add this to soups, risotto and slow cooked stews or simply give it on its own.
Baby beneficial bacteria, in the form of specialist infant probiotic powders, can make a big difference to lots of babies, and are particularly helpful if the problems have occurred since being on antibiotics.
Massaging the tummy clockwise with some almond or coconut oil can make a difference too and you can learn how to do this at baby massage classes.
One little boy came to see me at my clinic, with his sleep deprived mum, as he had never slept longer than 30 minutes in one stretch. Mum had tried several sleep strategies and dietary changes to no avail. We ran an in-depth stool test and discovered that the poor little chap had very significant gut inflammation. We slowly started adding in bone broths, fennel, turmeric and other herbs and he is now sleeping for several hours in a row at night and napping well during the day. I am pretty certain that as his gut inflammation reduces further, his sleep will get better and better. Sleeping through the night is definitely on the horizon for this little lad and these strategies may well help your little one sleep too.