Is my child's poop normal?
Trigger warning: poop is going to be discussed a lot in this blog post
There are a couple of general guidelines around what a healthy stool should look like but it’s important to note that poop is as unique as the individual making it.
Health practitioners often use the Bristol Stool Chart to help decipher bowel habits – it categorizes stools into seven types.
When it comes to stool consistency, the gold-class standard is type 3-4. You want your child to have a soft stool, similar to toothpaste consistency, which is easy to pass (without straining). Types 1-2 usually indicate constipation whilst 5-7 indicate diarrhoea and some urgency. If your child often passes one of the constipation/diarrhoea types, we recommend speaking to your healthcare provider as they may have IBS.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, which is a fancy way of saying the gut looks normal but doesn’t work perfectly. IBS is not a disease and doesn’t cause any damage to the gut or any other long-term health issues. IBS does, however, cause extremely uncomfortable symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, gas and changes in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea).
Research suggests approximately 5% of children globally aged 4-18 years old have IBS.
Why do children get IBS?
Similar to IBS in adults, IBS in children can be due to a range of factors. It may be that food moves too quickly through their digestive tract, they may have a sensitive colon, or be sensitive/intolerant to certain foods. Perhaps they have a bacterial infection, increased stress or anxiety, an inflamed gut, or an altered gut microbiome (the bacteria in our gut that help with digestion). If you or a family member have IBS, this can also increase your child’s risk of developing IBS.
How do I know if my child has IBS?
Your healthcare provider will ask a series of questions based on the IBS diagnostic criteria – it’s a great idea to keep a diary of what your child eats, when they get their symptoms and what kind of symptoms they’re experiencing (the more detail, the better). They’re also likely to perform a physical exam and may run some tests. It’s important not to self-diagnose IBS as your doctor will need to rule out any other possibilities or causes of the symptoms (like Coeliac Disease) to ensure the best health for your child.
How do you treat IBS in children?
Unfortunately there is no cure for IBS but there are treatments to help manage the symptoms - this will depend on the underlying cause (which should be identified by your doctor).
Following a low FODMAP diet has been shown to be the most effective way at managing IBS - helping up to 74% of sufferers! FODMAP is an acronym for a group of carbohydrates that are poorly digested or absorbed in the gut. They are found in a range of common (and healthy) foods like mango, onion, milk, bread and honey, and should only be avoided if they cause gut issues.
The FODMAP diet has three steps:
- Low FODMAP Diet: this step should be followed for 2-6 weeks and involves removing all high FODMAP foods from your child's diet (symptoms should resolve)
- Reintroduction: this step takes 6-8 weeks and involves reintroducing foods one at a time to determine which specific FODMAP groups triggers symptoms and which do not
- Personalization: this step involves establishing a longer-term personalized diet without trigger foods
It's important to note that this process is often hard for children to get their heads around – why they can have certain foods one week and not the other?! It has also been shown that elimination diets can lead to eating disorders later on in life. For these reasons, it's important to work closely with your healthcare team so they can ensure the best approach is taken for your child.
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