I recognised, that from a very young age, my son had a problem with his digestive system. But when I took him to the doctor, I was told that there was nothing wrong with him. This assessment was based upon the one simple fact that he was gaining weight normally.
I was told that ‘Toddler Diarrhoea’ is common amongst 1-5 year olds, particularly boys. The cause is unknown, but it is associated with an immature gut. I said to the doctor that what my son produced in his nappies was most definitely NOT normal, and would he like to see for himself, as I had a sample in my bag (and I wasn’t joking either). He politely declined of course.
Bearing in mind that my son was often doubled over with stomach pains and suffered from frequent vomitting and diarrhoea, I felt that I had no choice but to take matters into my own hands. So I started to investigate what could be causing him problems.
Initially, I switched his milk to goat’s milk, to see if a cow’s milk allergy could be to blame. The symptoms began to lessen and I thought I had found the culprit first time, but it soon became clear that a simple switching of milks was not going to be the answer to my son’s problems.
This led me to question whether lactose was causing the problems. Goat’s milk, though known to be milder on the tummy than cow’s milk, contains lactose too, though in a lesser proportion. This would explain why the symptoms in my son were slightly reduced but did not fully clear up.
With lactose out of the equation, my son’s symptoms were better than they had ever been, but I made a mistake. I continued to give him cow’s milk yoghurt, believing it to be lactose-free. This is because the bacteria that is added to milk to make the yoghurt, utilises the lactose to produce lactic acid and in so doing gives it the sour flavour that yoghurt is synonymous with.
Although this is true, there are still traces of lactose left in the yoghurt and so anyone who is acutely sensitive to lactose would not be able to tolerate it.
By the time my son turned four, I felt that he really needed to see a Paediatrician. I wanted to sort out his problems before he started school, as I didn’t want him to be in the situation where he would have to run to the toilet four or five times a day or end up having an embarrassing accident.
Thankfully I got my way and the Paediatrician confirmed my thoughts that lactose was to blame. Based on his case history, the doctor thought that it is most likely that my son does not produce the enzyme, lactase, which we need to be able to break down lactose in our bodies. So, unfortunately, this is not something he is going to grow out of.
Now we are working our way through the list of common culprits to find out what else he is intolerant to. Lactose is by far the biggest offender, with the lesser offenders proving more difficult to diagnose.
At the moment, we are eliminating both cow’s milk and wheat for a month, before re-introducing them one at a time and monitoring the effect. Up to now, we have coped really well with the adjustments, but that was because of a brilliant range of lacto-free products that you can buy in the supermarket. But of course these are based on cow’s milk, so we have had to cut them all out.
Being wheat-free, as well is really difficult. I almost fell on the floor when I saw the price of a wheat-free loaf of bread. And they looked so disgusting that I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. So I found some recipes and made some of my own. This was the result:
Coconut bread and spelt bread, both of which were very tasty, but the only problem is that you can’t make sandwiches from them very easily: my son thought I had given him cake for his packed lunch. I am not convinced wheat is a problem though, but we will still give it a go.
My instincts are telling me that fructose is a contender. Fructose malabsorption is a common cause of stomach cramps and diarrhoea, but it is down to the individual to work out how much they can tolerate. To eliminate fructose completely from the diet would be bordering on impossible, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t have to go that far.
I trust my instincts though, and they tend to be right when it comes to my children’s health, so I will certainly look at cutting down my son’s fruit and juice intake, once we have finished the current elimination programme. With any luck that will be enough and then finally, finally, we might just get to the bottom (no pun intended) of five years of digestive and stomach problems. Let’s hope so.