Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Constipation and the gluten connection

Ellie has been doing great in so many respects over the past two weeks that the fact that she was still suffering from constipation sort of flew under my radar. I was aware that she was not going for several days, but I let it slide just because she was sleeping so well and was so happy during the day. Big mistake.

Last night was the end of the third day of no pooping. After dinner she seemed to have a BM and asked for a new diaper. She was really, really upset and we assumed it was because she was bothered by her dirty diaper. When we got her upstairs and I opened her diaper it was immediately apparent why she was screaming.

Her bowl movement was bulging out of her anus, but was too big and hard to come out. She was hysterical and Ian and I had no idea what to do. We stood her up and I hugged her while Ian rubbed her back. If you have kids you might recognize this cry - she was doing the cry where her mouth was wide open and pulled back, her eyes were bulging out and she seemed to be crying but for long stretches wasn't making a sound. It was really frightening.

After a while she was able to pass some of the poop. I decided to give her an enema to see if she could get more out. I wish I didn't have to give her an enema when she was so upset (every other time I've done one she's happily cooperated) and I worried I was traumatizing her. In order to get her to lay down for a while and let the enema work, I hovered over her and let her nurse while she laid on the floor. (Yet another "Thank God we are still nursing" moments.) After that, she walked up and down the hallway with Ian, going to look out the front window and then the back window and stopping to sob. We became panicked when the enema work quickly and called our nutritional counselor (no answer) and our insurance's advice nurse line (not helpful).

Finally, about a half an hour after giving the enema Ellie passed another huge, hard poop and instantly felt better. She stopped crying and started chatting with us as if nothing had happened. It's amazing how resilient this kid is. I was traumatized for the rest of the night, but she just bounced right back.

After Ellie went to bed I got to thinking. What is going on? She has been doing so well in every other respect. Two weeks ago we started supplementing with magnesium, which is supposed to help resolve constipation. I thought back. It had started working. She has been pooping fine except for two episodes of constipation, both lasting three days, and both following her toddler co-op she goes to on Thursday mornings. Hmmmm....

Two weeks ago Ellie started spending solo time at some friends houses. The mamas who take turns watching the toddler have all been briefed on Ellie's food issues and made it a point to report to me that she didn't eat anything but her own snack during her time in their homes. But both times the moms informed me that they had played with Play Doh. That instinctual mother voice inside me instantly freaked out both times. "Play Doh!" it said. "Oh no! There's wheat in Play Doh!" Then another voice chimed in "Don't worry so much," it said. "Ellie can be a normal kid and can play with Play Doh. She's not eating the Play Doh. If you tell the moms no more Play Doh you're going to look like a weirdo and make your kid an outcast." Unfortunately I let the second voice win.

But looking back the timing of the constipation and the Play Doh is just too striking to ignore. The fact that it happened twice really solidifies things. I had always associated Celiac Disease (which Ellie has not been diagnosed with) and gluten sensitivity with diarrhea for some reason. But a quick Google search showed me there are lots of people who experience constipation as a symptom of gluten sensitivity. This article discusses gluten sensitivity and constipation especially in babies and toddlers.

Play Doh is essentially just water, salt and flour. Our nutrition counselor called me back this morning and we hashed out what happened and my Play Doh theory. "It seems to be connected," I told her, "but am I crazy? I feel crazy."

"No, you're not crazy," she reassured me. She went on to explain how we can absorb food even through our skin and for some people that level of exposure can cause problems. She told me about a little boy whose family she counseled. He attended a Waldorf school and a big tradition at the school was "bread day" when all the kids help out kneading the bread. She worked with the school to get the boy's classroom gluten free for snacks but for some reason the school wouldn't budge on bread day and the boy ended up having to leave the school because bread day made him so sick. So I'm not crazy.

This feels like a frustrating setback for us. I realize we have no idea how sensitive Ellie is to gluten because I've done a damn good job of keeping it out of her life. Sometimes it's easy to wonder if all of this diet stuff is really necessary, but an incident like this is helpful to show that, yes, Ellie is really sick and, yes, (hopefully!) we are healing her.


  1. Yes, constipation can be a sign of gluten sensitivity, both me and my son suffer from it and I regularly give him enemas, in hopes it will eventually get better once food allergies resolve. You should listen to this interview Starlene (of GAPS diet journey) did with someone who said he had celiac and was chronically constipated since he was a child: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gapsjourney/2011/05/28/gerald--healing-digestive-disorders-on-gaps-diet

    Its a good interview, he is really enthusiastic about the diet and what it is doing for him. Although I don't agree with his statements about everyone should be on a Paleo type diet.

    You are doing such a great job Mama!

  2. hi annie - yes gluten definitely went the constipation way for me! and the even the tiniest bit can be powerfully problematic.

    just thought i'd mention too that in the last few weeks i started taking the weston price recommended fermented cod liver oil (have just been taking regular) and high vitamin butter oil - hoping that as you just need a tiny amount the dairy wouldn't be a problem and might give me anything i'm missing from having to be dairy-free for so long. so far so good no reaction. the most noticeable good thing which i'm sure isn't coincidence is that Louie has increased his demand for breastfeeding ten fold ever since! and feeds for ages (we had been down naturally to three shortish feeds a day)- i'm sure he intuitively knows there's good stuff in the milk! and that fermented cod liver oil is so disgusting to take i can't imagine getting it in a toddler any other way! (he has some lemon flavoured regular cod liver oil) and i'm sure he looks different, more glowing, for it and a few other people have commented on that too.

  3. Janelle - Thanks for the info and the link! It's always reassuring to hear that others have experienced the same symptoms.

    Julia - How interesting about the cod liver oil! I have the same stuff sitting in our cabinet. I keep meaning to introduce it but I am afraid of the flavor. That is crazy that it changed your nursing experience so dramatically. Good idea to start with yourself - I should just do that and worry about getting it into Ellie later down the road. Thanks!

  4. Hi Annie, you're a great mama to be cogitating about what is causing your child's irregularities...I've said to people for years, it's all about the poop!! Stools tell us so much about health. My little ones have spent the first year of life chronically constipated and boy, have I done gymnastics to figure out how to help them! My little boy went 3 weeks one time with no movement. Not fun...and I was constantly concerned about all those toxins circulating around in him while he was impacted. I see GAPS is definitely part of that puzzle for these issues! If only other parents would realize how important normal bowel movements are! PLease don't feel badly for needing to use an enema...I did for my kiddos, too...many times. And, aside from constipation, enemas are actually a wonderful part of holistic healing regimens during acute illnesses. A well-performed herbal enema is good medicine...it targets botanical medicine more quickly into the bloodstream...it's great for flu with fevers. And if you need to do an enema again for constipation, it's nice to use catnip and fennel, which are very soothing to the digestive tract and helps to heal fissures caused by constipation. Anyway, I digress...hope you don't mind my sharing. Just wanted to say, don't give up mama!! I just finished my first blog "tome" about GAPS, LOL, and I referenced your blog at the end. Hope that's OK! If you're interested, it's http://radicallynatural.blogspot.com/2011/06/gaps-in-my-thinkingor-how-your-gut-is.html
    Cheers!! gabi

  5. Gabi - Thanks so much for the info about catnip and fennel - very interesting! I haven't had a chance to read your whole GAPS "tome" (LOL) but I hope to. Totally OK for you to reference my blog. Take care!