Tummy Troubles in Toddlers: Is Leaky Gut to Blame?

Leaky Gut 

Tummy Troubles in Toddlers: Is Leaky Gut to Blame?

Imbalance in the gut can lead to so many symptoms, I’d need several pages to detail the many ways digestion affects health. From asthma to seasonal allergies, eczema on the skin to digestive woes … if your child is suffering from symptoms like these or multiple food sensitivities, I’d first consider their gut health. And here’s why: not only is it important to make our little ones feel good, but children with damaged guts are more susceptible to disease, are at a greater risk of developing allergies. The gut is the seat of our health.

A particular condition that can affect many toddlers, adults and children too is leaky gut. All children are born with a leaky gut, until the immune system matures. This is why it is particularly important that you not introduce solid foods until a baby is 6-months of age.

If your child suffers from digestive problems, multiple food sensitivities, allergies and even asthma, read on to see if a leaky gut might be to blame … and what to do about it.

What is Leaky Gut?

Here’s a quick bit of anatomy, but I promise not to bog you down with the science of it all: Our digestive tract is lined with a layer of blood vessels and a layer of cells. The necessary nutrients in the food that we eat enter the blood vessels using two routes: they pass through the cells lining the intestines or they pass through the membrane in between the cells.  The membrane is naturally permeable to small particles because this is necessary for food absorption and processing.

When something goes wrong, the gut lining becomes inflamed or damaged and space is created so that large particles of food, instead of the miniscule ones are body is attuned to absorbing, can pass through the permeable barrier. These food particles in our blood stream are considered foreign by the body, and an immune response results.

Does My Toddler Have a Leaky Gut?

You might be wondering what causes leaky gut? The truth is so many things in our modern world can cause a disruption to our digestive system, and the inflammation that wrecks havoc on the lining of the gut wall: excess sugar consumption, food additives, harmful bacteria strains, drugs, pesticide residues and other toxic loads, chronic stress, and antibiotic use, which disrupts the natural colonization of good healthy gut bacteria. Some children are naturally susceptible to leaky gut, including those on the autism spectrum.

You may suspect your child has a leaky gut if…

  • Your child has multiple food sensitivities and allergies: food sensitivities can cause leaky gut by inflaming the gut wall (gluten is a big one) but they can also be a symptom of leaky gut;
  • Your child is experiencing digestive troubles including gas, bloating or distended stomach, chronic diarrhea or constipation;
  • Your child suffers from seasonal allergies;
  • Your child has eczema;
  • Your child has been diagnosed with candida overgrowth, parasites, fungus or infection
  • Your child has been on antibiotics without then following a probiotic protocol to restore balance.

*The digestive tract can’t heal if there is a bug running around causing all sorts of damage! Before embarking on a gut healing protocol, make sure to check for underlying an parasite, fungus, or infection first.  I personally experienced this first hand with my eldest son when he started to get unexplained eczema on his leg, dark circles under his eyes and sensitives to foods.  After a year of searching for answers I had a Live Blood Cell Test, where we finally discovered he had parasites in his cells, that cause candida overgrowth and a leaky gut.  Finally after a year and with the right supplement and food protocol all his eczema cleared up within weeks.  Healing from the inside, treating the cause not the symptom proves again why functional medicine is so affective. 

How to Heal My Toddler’s Leaky Gut

Fortunately, leaky gut is something that can be healed or helped with the right diet and supplement protocol. If leaky gut is what’s happening with your child (see me or another health professional to be sure), here are a few foods that may help restore balance and encourage healing in the gut wall.

  • Try an elimination diet to pinpoint foods that are irritating the gut wall. Remove these foods from the diet. Many people who do not have food sensitivities will still show positive results from eating an anti-inflammatory diet free from common allergy culprits (gluten, diary, and soy are the biggies);
  • Try a diet rich in good fats like avocado, coconut oil, almonds and eggs. Fat slows the time it takes for the stomach to empty, which lowers sugar concentrations and therefore the release of insulin;
  • Speaking of insulin – avoid sugar in the diet. Too much sugar in a child’s diet will cause the body to release insulin. Insulin requires B vitamins and trace minerals to assist in metabolizing sugar. The more sugar the body consumes, the more these vital trace minerals and B vitamins become depleted;
  • Take a good probiotic, especially after a round of antibiotics. You want to make sure the gut is populated with good bacteria;
  •  Don’t forget about fermented foods, yogurt and kefir as a source of good bacteria;
  • Encourage your little one to drink nourishing bone broth on a regular basis (up to several times a day if they will do it!) Make your own chicken and beef broth at home. If your little one won’t drink straight out of a mug, make a favourite soup.
  • Supplements, such as L-Glutamine might also help to repair the gut wall. See me or another health professional to learn more about supplement protocols for a leaky gut.

 Always be sure your child’s diet includes adequate fiber from fruits and vegetables; and that they drink adequate water (no juice!) to keep the digestive system moving along well.

If you suspect your child has a leaky gut, there are things you can do to promote the healing of the gut wall and to make your little one feel better. Like most everything else, time and good nutrition will soothe, repair and restore.


  1.  http://www.youandyourchildshealth.org/youandyourchildshealth/articles/leaky%20gut.html
  2.  http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10908/9-signs-you-have-a-leaky-gut.html
  3. http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/04/what-should-you-eat-to-heal-leaky-gut.html

Sleep + Toddlers Can = A Beautiful Thing.

toddler sleeping A toddler who melts down over and over.

A preschooler who throws tantrums that can be heard next door.

An elementary aged child who explodes –or implodes—at the slightest thing.

I hear these stories every day in my practice, and my first question is always the same:

How much sleep is your child getting?

It didn’t used to be this way. When I first began coaching parents, we’d start by looking at the behaviors for patterns, for lagging skills, for trigger events. Then we’d discuss how parents could help themselves and their kiddos to recognize what was going on and why. We’d develop skills that allowed parents to prevent, reduce, and minimize misbehavior. They would leave my office with new tools for change.

And it worked—up to a point. For many families, this was all that they needed. Yet for others, it seemed something else was going on. Something all our work during the day couldn’t quite reach, couldn’t quite change.

There was.

Now, when a parent reaches out for help on daytime behavior we start with what’s happening at night. We start with sleep.

The first question is followed by: tell me about bedtime and talk to me about naps. Then once put down for the night, does your child stay asleep? What time do they wake in the morning?

Listening to parents talk about these five points tells me what I need to know and where we go next.

Sleep. Are there enough zzzz? 

Infants should sleep 14-18 hours in a 24 hour period, and the maximum amount of time they should be awake between naps changes by the month.  Toddlers should be getting 13-15 hours of sleep, with two naps early in toddlerhood.  Preschoolers need 12 hours of total sleep, and most are taking an afternoon nap. School aged children should get 10 hours, adolescence 9.5 and adults? We should be getting at least eight.  Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Really. No kidding.

Bedtime. It can be beautiful.     

Yet often it takes hours. Or it feels like a minefield. Or includes kids who look like Tasmanian devils. Are you nodding your head to any of the last three? Time for change. First, ditch the bath. As adults the mere thought of tub-time changes our stress. We imagine soft bubbles, low lighting, maybe a glass of wine. Ahhhhh…But to our children? A tub is an indoor water park. It amps them up higher than they were before. So if bath is a battle—move it to a different time of day. Might I suggest the 4 p.m. witching hour?

Next, move bedtime 30 minutes earlier. Really. You know that point in the evening where there is a brief lull? When they are a bit quieter? Slightly calmer? That is in-your-bed-lights-out-time. By the time a child is yawning or rubbing their eyes or batting their ears or getting cranky?  Bedtime already went by. So check the clock and start earlier tomorrow.

Is your child an early bird?

From morning larks to night owls, we all have a preferred sleep cycle. But if your little one is waking up for the day at 4:35? 4:52? 5:03? 5:27? Chances are, they are waking before their body is ready, they are waking before the last full sleep cycle.  What to do? Often our friends, family and even health care providers will say “keep them up later”. Worst. Advice. Ever. Okay, that may be a bit strong, but it is close. Keeping a baby or child up longer during the day makes it harder for them to fall asleep, stay asleep or sleep in.  Not enough sleep is stressful to a child’s body, and as a result, they produce the hormone cortisol. And cortisol is what messes with sleep—it becomes a reinforcing cycle of unrest. So if you have a baby bird that is up before the sun, or one who wakes often in the night? Put them to bed earlier.

The dance of good sleep has lots of factors—time, place, rooms, companions. Putting a child down earlier is the piece of advice that provokes the strongest reaction. Often I get cold stares, or eye rolls, or a burst of “are you kidding me?” Yet a day or two later I get an incredulous message—“I thought you were crazy, but it totally worked!” I have never, ever, had a child wake up even earlier, wake more often, or not sleep well when they go to bed at an earlier time. Ever.

Parenting is a paradox of long days and swiftly passing years. Yet if we shorten those days by a few minutes to create longer nights, the days that follow are filled with wonderful moments.  Here’s to more sleep. Sweet dreams.

Emily McMason is a personal & parent coach and childhood sleep specialist. To connect with her and learn more: emily@evolving-parents.com or www.evolving-parents.com.


Healthy Eating with Kids - 3 Rules for Families

Family laughing around a good meal in kitchen

Something happens to many moms when their children reach the toddler years. Past struggles to control food consumption, and finding peace with your body, often peak. We may feel we still carry “baby weight” and the need to understand what “healthy eating” means becomes more important as we now control what goes into little mouths too. 

I find when I talk to moms who are at this stage, something interesting is at work: too often there is a discrepancy between what Mom is eating, and what Child is eating.  CLICK TO TWEET

For some women, this means placing a well-balanced healthy breakfast in front of their child, and then squirreling away in the corner of the kitchen to shove a croissant in their mouth before flying out the door (or skipping breakfast all together, or finding breakfast in the drive-thru). For others, it may mean letting the kids dine on processed chicken nuggets and fries, while sitting down to tuck into a salad and plain chicken breast (or this amazing meal). Does any of this sound familiar?

I have been guilty of it too, at one time or another, and that “guilt” brings me to this post. I want to set the record straight - eating healthy with kids is about healthy family eating. The best way to shed baby weight, and to teach your kids healthy eating habits, is to practice what you preach - and learn what to preach and practice!. And so here are 3 rules for healthy family eating.

Rule #1: Everyone eats the same meal.

Sometimes we think about following a special diet for ourselves, or trying a new recipe, but leaving the kids out of it. We think, “They’ll never eat this!” And so we don’t try. Instead, aim to make the same meal for everyone and don’t worry about being adventurous. Asking your kids to try new tastes and textures, at least one bite, is very healthy for them. If you constantly keep them in their comfort zone, they won’t learn to expand their palate. You can apply this rule at a restaurant too: kids menus reinforce this “You eat differently from me” mentality. Try sharing an entree with your child instead! I love this article for tips on introducing new foods to kids.

Rule #2: Everyone gets their own plate.

This sounds silly, but I have talked with moms who think they’ll just skip out on having lunch, and then find themselves eating their child’s leftovers. Or, after eating their own portion, moms will finish up their kid’s plates too. You should not eat your child’s leftovers, ever! CLICK TO TWEET This can lead to overeating and weight gain. Did you know there are 125 calories in that square of grilled cheese sandwich you finished for your son? You could have had an egg over bok choy for just a few more calories than that lonely bite! Spoon out a healthy portion for everyone in the family (this teaches your kids what healthy portions look like) and make sure to encourage each family member to stick to eating from their own plate. Boundaries are important in families, as is making each child feel like they have something just for them.

Rule #3: Aim for consistent meal and snack times.

Kids like consistency, and their tummies do too. You like consistency, even if you don’t always realize it, and your body will too. Avoid mindless snacking throughout the day, especially in front of the television, and aim to have conscious meals and snacks eaten while sitting down at a table (talking and connecting with your kids). Research suggests that children who eat meals with their parents, are less likely to be obese. You should also eat at intervals that ensure your blood sugar stays stable (especially important for breastfeeding moms!)

By applying these three rules for family eating, you can really start to nurture healthy attitutdes toward food, for every member of the family, mom included. The bottom line is balance: find your balance by eating mindfully, enjoying the knowledge and passion you are sharing with your kids, and taking time to think of everyone’s needs … yours are so important.


Stock photo from


Happy Halloween!!

Healthy Halloween Happy Halloween!!  Please be mindful of what you let your children consume today/tonight/all weekend.  Sugar will suppress their immune system for at least 8-12 hours, food dye will alter their mood, aka hyperactivity. Contrary to popular belief, studies show that it’s not actually the sugar that makes kids jumpy – it’s the artificial colors and other synthetic additives. You know, yellow dye #5, sodium benzoate, red 40, etc. That’s the stuff that you really have to watch out for.

There is a happy medium for parents who want to spare children of nutrient-devoid treats but still have a fun Halloween. Beyond boxes of raisins, here are some healthier alternatives. You’ll be surprised how many kids actually go for them!

  • 100% real fruit leathers – check the label and pick the one with the highest % vitamin C.  I get my from this amazing women.  Raw to Ready.
  • Bags of popcorn –  an exciting source of fibre, but look out for MSG in flavoured kinds.  Make your own, popcorn balls were my favorite as a child.
  • 70% cocoa dark chocolate – bulk food stores often sell these as individually wrapped squares.
  • Mini juice boxes – check that it’s 100% real juice and not a fruit cocktail or fruit beverage
  • Partly skimmed cheese strings or sticks – bonus: cheese helps neutralize the acid in kids’ mouths after a sugary treat
  • Sesame snaps – sesame seeds are a source of good fat and calcium
  • Ethnic/vegetarian treats – single serve packs of dried roasted seaweed, wasabi peas, rice crackers, or roasted soybeans are available in many mainstream grocery stores or Asian supermarkets

Non food treats are fantastic as well, like little toys, pencils etc.  Keep the 80/20 rule in mind: keep your kids on a healthy track 80% of the time, and relax a bit knowing that your child eats really well the majority of the time. Our bodies are able to handle small amounts of junk food (unless there is an allergy or intolerance).”  Just be aware and caution that junk food will dampen their immune system, so maybe diffusing onGuard essential oils in the home today and giving extra probiotcs and a fish oil today would be a good choice.  Have fun with your kids and I would love to see what they dressed up in.