Have you ever wondered if you should remove gluten from your child’s diet? How do you know if it’s an allergy or an intolerance? As I work with thousands of parents in the MOMables community, the one question people often ask is: how did you realize your kids were allergic/intolerant to gluten and dairy?
Unlike a peanut allergy that manifests itself immediately, our dairy and gluten intolerances showed symptoms overtime but no real “sign” or “test” that allowed me to label it as an allergy. This is perhaps the most frustrating part for many parents, that “grey-area” where you wonder if something is causing your child harm and whether or not to remove it from their diet.
When in doubt, I opt for removing the item from my child’s diet. There are many things that are wholesome and good, and in my humble opinion, one thing isn’t going to make a big difference in your child’s nutritional intake (as long as you make sure you are providing such nutrients with other foods).*
In short, my middle son is completely gluten-free. Below you will find Alex’s story and how he became my gluten free child. For Gabriel’s story, the dairy free child, click here.
Alex: the gluten free kid.
When Alex was born, he wasn’t the biggest baby on the block (6lbs 15oz). Naturally, he gained weight but has always been in the lower 5-10% for his age. He is “slim” to say the least.
As a baby, he nursed well and I didn’t have to change anything in my diet for him to digest my breast milk well. Eventually, he transitioned to an organic formula and ate a variety of foods. The one thing we had trouble with was his stools. Since he was a baby he was often constipated and my heart would ache seeing him “push” as an infant. We constantly had to lubricate his anus to ease the passing of stool (in other words, we had to lube the way for him to poop!) so it wasn’t as painful.
I cloth diapered him and by the time he was 7 months I would sit him on the potty so he would sit in an ergonomic posture to ease passing of the stool. Needless to say, he was potty trained to poop on the potty at around 14 months.
Of course, with solid foods came solid stools. He ate most foods but never seemed to have a huge appetite. The pediatrician continued to suggest we give him plenty of liquid and continued with his whole grain and high fiber diet.
One day, when Alex was 2, we were at a birthday party inside a very busy bounce house arcade when he asked to go make “ca-ca” (our word for poop). Dragging the stroller and his 4 year old sister with me I sat him on (a paper lined) toilet and let him do his business. What happened next was the beginning of the reality that my son had stomach issues. As he pushed his stools he began to cry. A little at first, and then screaming after. I remember holding him tight as he was going ca-ca and thinking to myself that something is wrong. When he was finished and I wiped his little heiney, I saw blood. I’m not talking about a little blood on the toilet paper, I mean a lot. When I finally got him clean and lifted him off the toilet and I looked inside the bowl, the water was red.
I packed my son, daughter and all our belongings and rushed to the doctors office. Upon a visual inspection the doctor said that he didn’t see any external hemorrhoids and that perhaps his stool was hard and he tore an internal hemorrhoid as he pushed. He also suggested we give him more water, continue his high fiber diet, and see a pediatric gastroenterologist the following week. For the next couple of days, we continued to see blood in his stool but never as a gush of blood like the first time.
Our appointment with the gastro was better than with our pediatrician. He suggested we put our child on a high dose of stool softener (such as miralax) for a month to allow any tearing or bruising to heal inside his intestinal wall. He said that if we continued to see blood in his stool after two weeks, Alex needed a colonoscopy to fully determine the cause of the bleeding.
Luckily for Alex, the bleeding stopped and the colonoscopy wasn’t necessary. Over time, he went from the kid that ate nearly everything as a toddler to a very picky eater who would eat a few selected foods. At 4 years of age I could count the number of foods he ate on two hands.
His stools continued to be hard and his bathroom trips were less the pleasant. We’ve had crying outbursts while sitting on the toilet at Barnes & Noble (when you gotta go you gotta go) and nearly always he sat on the toilet for 10 plus minutes because “he wasn’t finished yet.” Often times, you could see his abdomen contract as he was sitting on the toilet trying to pass his stool.
Twice, from 4 1/2 yrs to almost 6, I’ve taken him to the emergency room with stomach pains that were so bad you’d think something was tearing his insides. An abdominal x-ray confirmed that he had impacted bowels and possibly irritated intestines. More fiber, more water, and fresh fruit is what doctors recommended.
Unfortunately, my very picky eater lived on a diet mostly filled with whole wheat and dairy. Fruits and veggies were snuck in and dinner time was often an issue. He was never hungry. He never wanted to eat breakfast, lunch was barely eaten, and dinner was a fight. My mom joked that my son lived on air and water alone.
I reached the peak of my frustration three months after I went grain free. Frustrated with my son’s constant food struggles, lack of appetite, little help from doctors besides the reassuring “some kids are just hard of stool,” and constant nagging from my family that my son was severely underweight. I decided to take matters into my own hands.
The day after his 6th birthday, I explained to him that he was going on a gluten free diet. Meaning, we were going to work together to find foods that he would eat that didn’t have regular flour so his stomach would stop hurting.
The first week was a little tough and we had a couple of “I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to eat that” instances. After that, he was actually pretty receptive to some of his new foods and has tried a few new things (not too many, he’s not that adventurous yet). For two weeks I added these probiotic capsules to his morning glass of milk to help restore his gut.
After the second week of Alex’s strict gluten free diet, many of his bathroom issues disappeared. He has gone to the bathroom at least once per day and has told me in numerous occasions that it doesn’t hurt anymore to go to the bathroom. After three weeks he gained a pound. His skin looks brighter and the dark circles under his eyes practically disappeared. After a month, he became his own advocate and began telling people that he eats a special gluten free diet because his stomach used to hurt all the time. He even tells people about the times he had to go to the emergency room and how it hurt sooooooo baaaaad.
Now, I make time each weekend to bake treats and recreate some of our favorite staples for him. Since he still doesn’t get all the calories he needs for the day, he eats a bowl of cereal clusters before bed. He is learning to make his own gluten free bread, gluten free goldfish, grain free donuts (recipe coming soon), grain free cocoa puffs, and gluten free wheat thin crackers (recipe coming soon).
Overall, it’s been a very positive change for him, physically and emotionally. He tells me his stomach feels a lot better and this gluten free thing isn’t so bad. His bathroom trips aren’t 100% normal, especially when he eats too much cheese in a short amount of time, but that is to be expected. We’ve even ordered a squatty potty to help with some of his bathroom issues (more on this soon). Improvement is a good thing, and I’m willing to work hard to help him be tummy-ache free.
How long will he have to be on a gluten free diet?
As long as it’s necessary, most likely indefinitely.
What about school lunch? Does his school offer special gluten free items?
I pack all of his foods for school and snacks for when we are out and about. We’ve had discussions about not eating anything he doesn’t bring from home. I’ve sent a note to his teachers to not feed him at school and that I will provide every snack and classroom party lunches.
What about birthday parties and playdates?
So far, we’ve had two birthday parties and I’ve brought him his own food and homemade gluten free cake or cupcakes. He isn’t missing anything special. He doesn’t eat hotdogs and much of the party food served at most gatherings so it hasn’t’ been an issue.
What does his pediatrician think of his gluten free diet?
I’m the parent, I am feeding my child a nutritious diet and doing the best I can to make sure he gets enough calories. He’s gained a little over a pound, if anything… I think the pediatrician is happy.
What about getting him tested for gluten allergies?
I don’t think he is so severely gluten intolerant that he suffers from celiac disease. Esophageal testing isn’t something I want to submit my child to, so for now we avoid it. It’s not that big of a deal. We omit gluten from his diet, he has shown an improvement in nearly all his symptoms…that is enough for us.
Where do you get most of your gluten free recipes? How do you make gluten free food appealing to kids?
You need to check out MOMables. The recipe index has a huge allergy friendly section and I use many of those recipes. For school lunch ideas and family meals I use the meal plan. Many of the things we eat are also on this blog.
Thank you for visiting this page and reading about my son’s gluten free journey.
*I am not a healthcare professional. The above post is my story and how I removed gluten from my son’s diet. What you choose to do with your child’s diet is your choice and I encourage you to seek the opinion of a medical professional.