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Infant digestion

Parents these days are dealing with some serious diaper issues; constipation, foul smelling, irregular bowel movements you name it. This month I want to help explain why your little one can’t digest food like you right away. Our digestive system is a series of tubes, liquids, and scrubbers; to break it down simply. It all begins in our mouth with saliva and enzymes that begin to break down our food. These enzymes don’t start being excreted until an infant is 5-7 months old, right around the same time as teething begins. From the month our food travels to our throat and esophagus and then to our stomach where more enzymes are secreted and then to our small intestine where the pancreas and gallbladder secrete more enzymes which don’t begin until an infant is 15 months old. Then the food travels through the rest of the small intestine where little scrubbers called villi absorb and extract nutrients to be absorbed by the blood stream. There is a ton of bacteria that help with this process as well. An infant’s intestine lining is extremely permeable during the first 9 months and can absorb things it shouldn’t when given food they are not developed enough to digest such as dairy, wheat, or sugar. Dairy and wheat have very large proteins called casein and gluten which can be absorbed into an infant’s digestion before it is developed enough to break these proteins down to smaller bits. The larger proteins are then seen as foreign by the child’s body so they create antibodies to attack them causing an inflammatory/allergic response.

At around 9-12 months infants can begin to eat foods other than breast milk or formula. This is the period of trial and error to determine how foods affect your child’s digestion. There needs to be close observation and monitoring of an abnormal response such as, congestion (often confused with teething), hives, rashes, eczema, ear infections, wheezing, and red ears. These can take hours if not days to develop. Only introduce one food at a time and continue for 3-4 days provided there are no signs of intolerance. If you are passed the days of introducing food and there are so many foods you don’t know what could be causing the congestion, rashes, agitated attitude, constipation, indigestion, or foul odor the next step is elimination techniques or rotational diets.

Elimination techniques will be able to show you how your child’s body reacts to a certain kind of food over a six week period. This first thing to do is review your child’s diet and eliminate everything with artificial flavors, colors, dairy, and wheat for two weeks. After 2 weeks you can begin reintroducing foods one at a time (you want to know which one causes a reaction) every 3-4 days and watching for reactions such as, changes in bowel movements, runny nose, hives/rashes, changes in sleeping habits, changes in attitude. All of these are signs of food intolerance. Continue this process for 2-4 weeks keeping a food log to keep track of your child’s reactions and improvement. This process can be stressful 2 weeks is a long time not to have frosted flakes or cheese. You can find substitutes for the time being such as oatmeal with fruit (without artificial flavors) and almond or coconut milk (considering your child doesn’t have a nut allergy). Its two weeks that could make a world of difference for you and your child. Once you determine your “sick list” now you have power in creating the best diet for your children.

After the eliminate diet food items that had a milder reaction or if you want something a little simpler try the rotation diet. This means rotating foods every 4-5 days. Such as, pasta on Sunday means the next pasta dish will be on Thursday or Friday. When you can give your body a break it can better tolerate a food that it might be sensitive too.

If you are strictly breast feeding and you don’t know what could be causing the four odor, constipation, or reflux. Look at your diet because your child is eating what you eat and use the elimination diet for yourself. Also if your child has had a need for antibiotics the intestinal flora that helps with digestion and absorption is now killed off as well. Following up with a non-dairy probiotic can give your child’s digestive system an extra boost.

Stop by Dr. Carly’s office and pick up a schedule for foods to introduce at certain months of your infants development.

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