4 Ways Going Gluten-Free Made My Kid’s Life Better

My gluten-free kiddoes.

I’ve always had a very tight bond with my little boy, now going on seven years old and in first grade. He was conceived just one month after I got married, and about one week into my PhD program at the University of Wisconsin I found out he was on the way. The news of his impending arrival changed my life. I finished out that first year of my program, gave birth to him during finals, and BAM! I became a stay-at-home mom after spending the previous decade working in marketing or studying psychology. I had to pour all my drive and energy into something, and that something was him!

From the get-go, he was a somewhat difficult baby. He didn’t sleep well, refusing naps, still awake after “crying it out” for two hours. He was impossible to get back to sleep after I fed him at night. He spat up constantly. He had a bout of colic for a few months early on. Later in his toddler years, he developed stomach aches, which grew progressively more common as the years passed. I always brought them up to his pediatrician, but he said we should wait and see. He was such a prodigious urinator (is that a word?) at night, that I had to put what we called “The Contraption” on him each night. I put on a premium brand nighttime diaper, followed by 3 layers of cloth diapers, followed by plastic pants. Even then, he still wet through at least twice a week.

By the time he was 4 years old, I’d realized that gluten was a huge factor in my MS, and that it made me cranky, irritated my stomach and made it leaky, and gave me terrible MS fatigue. I asked the doctor at all our visits if perhaps my son’s stomach aches could be a gluten sensitivity. He didn’t think so, since my son was growing well, so I let it go. But I always wondered. His pediatrician was about to start seriously looking into the stomach aches when we moved to Texas.

By the time my son was 5 years old, he was still wetting the bed at night a few times a week, had stomach aches daily, was cranky and irritable a lot, and had a hard time keeping up with the other kids’ at his soccer team practices. He was also chronically congested and had at least 6 ear infections a year. I was fed up. Determined to get my baby healthy once and for all, I decided to buck the advice of his doctors and well-meaning family members and go ahead and put him on a gluten-free diet to see if all these symptoms would resolve. After all, as my friend told me when I was considering going gluten-free to help my MS , what did I have to lose? (Click here to learn about how to help your own autoimmune disease through dietary therapy, like I did.)

On my son’s 6th birthday, I put him on a 100% gluten-free diet . It wasn’t hard for me to do because I was already gluten-free myself and knew all the hidden sources of gluten to look for. He was sick of being sick and tired, and really wanted to stop wearing pull-ups at night, so he was completely on board with the plan.

We banned wheat-based breakfast cereals, and I gave him eggs, Pumpkin Coconut Pancakes , bananas and rice or corn based cereals instead. Rather than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he had turkey and a gluten-free banana muffin . For snacks, we had fruit, cheesecake , Lara Bars and gluten-free cereal bars. Spaghetti and macaroni and cheese went out, and in came gluten-free pizza, hamburgers, and roasted chicken thighs . He really liked all the new foods, and both my kids actually became better eaters, more willing to eat their veggies and asking for sweets less often.

But the biggest benefits were to come! By the third week, it was obvious that my son’s life had dramatically improved. His crankiness and irritability, which would frequently flare up after school or especially on holidays and vacations, was gone by about the end of the first week.

Before going gluten-free, he was often the slowest runner on his soccer team, and frequently had to rest and take breaks. Within a week or two of being gluten-free, he could run just as fast as the other kids at soccer practice, and he had the endurance to play out the whole match or practice and still play at the park afterwards.

Before going gluten-free, he wet the bed 2-3 nights per week. During the first week and second weeks of being gluten-free, he wet the bed once per week. By week 3, he was completely dry. He’s now been gluten-free for almost a year and hasn’t wet the bed since.

I am certain that the colic, spitting up, poor sleep and tummy aches from his baby and toddler years were related to the gluten irritating his gut. His stomach took many months to heal and over time the stomach aches became less and less frequent. I can’t remember exactly, but I would say that by about 6 months of being gluten-free, he was pretty much stomach ache free.

We had a truly wonderful pediatrician when he was a baby, but even he was unwilling to entertain the idea that gluten was causing these seemingly “normal” problems of childhood. After all, what kid doesn’t wet the bed, act cranky, say he’s tired, or have a tummy ache? Colic and spitting up and poor sleeping habits in babies are considered common and just something that parents have to muscle through until it passes. If it’s not failure to thrive or celiac disease, doctors are unwilling to suggest to parents that something like gluten in their child’s diet may be the source of the problem.

But maybe colic, spitting up, poor sleep habits, tummy aches, bed wetting, and crankiness AREN’T normal. Maybe they are so widespread because we inundate our kids with wheat-based foods throughout the day, even though there is evidence that perhaps as many as 83% of people show observable stomach inflammation when they are exposed to wheat.

Wheat grains can’t run away from predators who would like to eat them. So they developed other defense mechanisms that allowed them to propagate and survive. They developed an indigestibility that causes them to be passed largely undigested through the GI tract (unless you are like a cow and have developed a rumen). They developed toxins such as gluten, gliadin, and agglutinin that are designed to poison the guts of any who would eat them. We are not immune to these toxins. Some people seem to handle them better than others, but it is estimated that between 30 and 83% of people do not handle them well at all. In very severe cases, gluten and other wheat toxins can bring on autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis. Neurological problems such as epilepsy and schizophrenia are strongly related to gluten. Bowel disease, bone disease, autism, ADD, cancer….the lists go on. Check out the Gluten Intolerance Test here on Fit4God to see a list of 42 symptoms that may be caused by gluten sensitivity.

If your precious child is suffering from similar symptoms, I urge you to be an advocate for your child and test him or her to see if gluten may be causing some of the problems. These little problems like fatigue, crankiness, bed wetting, tummy aches and colic can seem normal and like they are just a part of childhood, but maybe they don’t need to be. I urge you, for the sake of the precious children that God entrusted to you, to try a gluten-free month and see what develops. You might be wonderfully surprised by the results.

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