Sensitive Gut Issues

In our second blog post in the FODMAPs for kids with sensitive tummies series we shared the experiences of a family with a child who has both sensory issues and a sensitive gut.  In this instalment of Ellie’s story we will hear about how the sensitive gut issues became interwoven with her increasingly evident sensory issues.  Julie continues her story here…

At 18 months Ellie started at daycare.  Not long after that, staff noticed things like her very advanced speech and ability to recognise her name in writing at an early age, but they also raised early flags of sensory issues.  Ellie didn’t like touching or playing in the sandpit or with anything sticky, she was easily startled by sounds or the fast movement of the other little kids. Her previously wide range of foods started narrowing.

We noticed these issues too, but put it down to other things: being an only child, moving house, toddler fussiness phase etc.  Whenever I discussed Ellie’s sleep issues and asked about her tummy or poos, the staff said her diet was wonderful compared to what they often see, and that her love of blueberries (and breastmilk) was probably behind the large and very loose poos. 

When Ellie finished teething around two years old, things seemed to be getting worse rather than better.  Over the next few months, Ellie’s poos gradually went from two or more per day, to one every four or five days.  Eventually, they were large, mucousy, often smelled like vomit, had undigested food, and were very painful and distressing to pass.  There was sometimes a small hard blob, followed by a large mushy or liquidy poo.  It could take 15-20 minutes for her to feel finished.

She wanted to eat very little, and preferred dry carb foods like cereal or crackers.  She was emotionally fragile at home, always tired and sometimes quite lethargic.  Ellie took to playing at “being asleep” – lying on the floor on her back, writhing, passing wind, then saying she had done a poo in her nappy, or that one was coming (with no result).  She rarely slept more than two hours at a time and needed lots of effort and reassurance to resettle.  Her gut became visibly distended between poos. During this time we were advised by doctors that “loose poos are not unusual and not to worry”, “ when she stopped breastfeeding things would resolve”,  “try Movicol, and prune juice”.  These seemed to make things worse, not better, more explosive, more liquid, more gassy, but no more frequent.

By coincidence (and low immunity I suspect) Ellie came down with a strep throat infection, was prescribed amoxycillin and we also gave her probiotics.  Her tummy problems disappeared within 48 hours. She reverted to a daily poo of a more ‘normal’ size and consistency, her sleep improved dramatically, and she had far fewer emotional meltdowns while her accepted food range increased. 

In my relief I assumed that the antibiotics had fixed some underlying problem.  Over the next four months, the problems gradually reappeared.

At the same time, the daycare staff raised concerns about Amie’s development being uneven, and high anxiety levels.  This was the first time anyone mentioned “spectrum-type behaviours” and it was quite a shock to us.  Ellie underwent informal OT assessment and in subsequent discussions we raised the connection that we could see with Amie’s gut health and her anxiety/sensitivity.  Re-introduction of probiotics were recommended and Amie’s tummy did improve significantly again and she was back to fairly regular poos, but still too mushy and large to seem properly healthy.

You can sense that Julie is starting to gain a better grasp of the link between Ellie’s sensitive tummy and sensory issues, but has not quite figured out the specific links and triggers yet, despite an incredible investment of time, attention and energy. This story may contain elements of familiarity for those of you reading who have “sensory” or “sensitive” kids.  The lessons from this part of Ellie’s sensitive gut and sensory issues story that I want to emphasise are these:

  • “Fussy” or “picky” eating can be a very early Sensory issues can be an early indicator of either food sensitivities, sensory issues, or both.
  •  Antibiotics can temporarily relieve symptoms by reducing numbers of harmful gut bacteria, but often wipe out the beneficial bacteria as well, so are not a long term solution.
  •  Probiotics can influence the number and type of gut bacteria in a positive way.
  •  FODMAPs (polyols in Movicol and prune juice) can significantly and negatively impact on bowel function.

In our next post, we will discuss how Julie and Ellie have found the link between Ellie’s sensory issues and sensitive gut, and hopefully provide you with a guide to how to navigate your own path towards managing your child’s gut related sensitivity/sensory issues.

Blogged by Kerith Duncanson – April 2016

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