Monday, March 26, 2012

Baby Poop: Constipation, Diarrhea and Allergies

When you have a baby, you begin- slowly, hesitantly at first- and then assuredly, soon boldly and often self-absorbedly and disgustingly! to talk about POOP.  Babies poop is a world of information about their tiny inner workings and how the mini-factory is cranking along, and soon every Mom and Dad has talked to the doctor or found baby poo color visual aides to better ascertain the health of baby. The color of poo is learned in it's successive order from the first week of birth onward: green-black, green-brown, brown and yellowish. Breastfed babies tend to have looser, more mustard colored poops, while formula fed babies tend to have bulkier, tan colored bowel movements.

As babies move through the first year and then the months between one and two, their bowel movements begin to reflect not only breastmilk or formula, but the foods they are eating. The foods that a breastfeeding mother eat directly impact her breastmilk and her babies stomach, as do the ingredients in formula.

It is long standing knowledge that poop directly indicates the health of a person, or any problems the person is having, from violet colored poo that indicates an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, to a pale colored poop that could indicate bile buildup and a liver problem or stomach virus. This is why it is  disturbing to me that so many parents today are being told, when bringing their gassy, constipated pooper to the doctor for evaluation, to begin giving their baby a regular stool softener, instead of looking at the cause- and the most likely cause is food allergy or intolerance. Parents who are bringing in a child with chronic, rash causing diarrhea are so often told it is simply 'toddler diarrhea', instead, again, of looking at the most obvious issue: food.

When babies are routinely constipated, have diarrhea, excema or colic, the first place to look is food.
Both poop and the skin express reactions to food, and if you have a colicky, constipated child with dermatitis, it is highly likely the culprit for all symptoms lie in a food allergy or intolerance. Dairy intolerance is the most common issue, not only for formula fed babies but also breastfed.  Formulas are now made with soy based, dairy free based ingredients and doctors often recommend these to a formula fed baby who is having issues with colic or constipation, but a breastfeeding mother whose baby is constipated or having 'acid reflux' ( another increasingly common 'diagnosis' for babies which the cause for is not sought, but simply the symptoms treated ) she is rarely ( ever? ) told to try cutting out dairy or chocolate or other common troublesome foods from her diet.  Instead the symptoms are treated: baby is given a medication for acid reflux and the mother is even occasionally told that perhaps formula would be a good idea.

Here is a first person account of one mother's experience with food allergies in her babies from the La Leche page:

Robin Slaw's daughter, Alanna, has a dairy sensitivity which appeared immediately after birth. But it took Robin almost three months to realize that the nightmarish colic Alanna was experiencing was controllable, simply by removing dairy products from her diet. Alanna would scream at the top of her lungs every evening, from 10 PM until 2 AM, and nothing that Robin or her husband did would help. They spent many hours walking her, literally bouncing off the hallway walls from exhaustion.
After Alanna got over her colicky stage, Robin thought she was over her sensitivity to dairy products, and when she was a year old, allowed her to start having dairy products in her diet. It wasn't until she was three years old that Robin finally associated Alanna's out-of-control temper tantrums with her consumption of dairy products. Robin removed dairy products from Alanna's diet, and now she's fine. Robin adds, "I can always tell when she tries to slip a little milk on her cereal in the morning. She turns into a rude and inconsiderate child, instead of the normally boisterous but caring six-year- old that she is."

Robin's second daughter, Sarah, has multiple food sensitivities that all appeared by the time she was three months old. "It was a long slow struggle to find all her sensitivities. We started with our family doctor, who couldn't diagnose her rashes, but sent us to a dermatologist. The dermatologist then sent us to a pediatric dermatologist, who diagnosed atopic dermatitis, and suggested that certain foods could be the source of her reactions. I had already suspected this, and was trying to eliminate what I knew were common allergens, but in the US, it's very hard to get away from wheat and corn if you eat any processed foods. Through lots of hard work, and the help of a wonderful book called Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp, I managed to identify almost all of her allergies by the time she turned one. The only two I hadn't discovered yet were chocolate (which I suspected but hadn't confirmed, since I didn't eat it often anyway) and oats, which I hadn't even begun to suspect."

I have spoken with so many new mothers over the last few years whose babies are having serious problems with pooping due to constipation, whose children have large patches of itchy, miserable excema, and whose babies are diagnosed with 'acid reflux'.  Chronic diarrhea seems to be less common but still occurs. All of these women were taking their babies to the pediatrician, urgently hoping to find an answer for their babies, and none that I know of were directed to the most likely cause of their child's suffering- food.

My own experience with this has been with two of my children. Dakota was colicky and cried so much his first four or five months of life, it breaks my heart to remember. I had no idea about food intolerance or allergies, and none of my doctors mentioned anything about it to me, so I continued eating the same food I always had. He grew into a beautiful little boy with excema and eventually, with serious intestinal pain and problems. He was also diagnosed with 'sports asthma' which essentially means that whenever his body got to moving around really fast, he would have a rough time breathing. It was around this time that I began eliminating things from his diet. Eventually we eliminated diary for a short time, and then gluten entirely for about a year, introducing it back in slowly and never again in the same amounts ( until he was an older teenager, and could eat whatever he wanted ) All of his problems resolved within months.  The asthma they wanted him to take steroids for, the itchy miserable skin we used special lotion for, the stomach pain and digestive issues. Of course, we did more than eliminate these foods from his diet, we also purposefully introduced certain healing foods and began giving him fish oil daily, but without removing the foods in the first place, his body would not have been able to heal.

Lola, born eight years later, had a colicky time of the evening. This time around I was informed and immediately removed dairy from my diet, and wa-la, her colicky time disappeared. I didn't think any more about it until she was about 7 and began having stomach aches. Eventually I realized that she was probably having issues with dairy, removed it, and wa-la, no more stomach aches. 

If your baby is colicky, has skin problems, is constipated or has diarrhea regularly, or is having breathing issues like RAD ( reactive airway disease ) I hope this has inspired you to look into food allergies and intolerance. Your doctor probably won't tell you, but another Mom would- and just did :)

Marion said...

That quote on your sidebar:

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open,” is by Muriel Rukeyser.

Barb said...

Amen. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I learned so much about all of this AFTER the fact. Great post.

Steph(anie) said...

Ah, I have one of each... one constipated child and one diarrhea prone one. The solution has ALWAYS come down to foods, removing some and adding others.

anymommy said...

And this is why I love blogging. So much information shared from real, honest to goodness, mother-life-experience.

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