Loose bowels and diarrhoea might not seem like a big deal. Most children will experience them at some point, especially after a course of antibiotics.
But over time, loose bowel movements can lead to nutrient deficiencies and other imbalances. Any changes to bowel movements – whether it’s a shift to loose movements or more towards constipation – are clues that let us know that there is a root cause to address.
Watch the video or continue reading below to learn more about relieving loose bowel movements naturally.
What can cause loose bowels in kids?
In most cases, the cause of loose bowel movements will fall under one of the three ‘I’s:
- Irritation and inflammation
- Infection (viruses, bacteria or parasites)
- Intolerances to food
That being said, there are a few other causes that kids might experience, including:
- Antibiotic use – this will often clear up after the course is finished. Remember to follow up with probiotics to rebuild the gut!
- Inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Stress – you’ve probably experienced this yourself at some point!
- SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This is when bacteria from the large intestine creeps up to the small intestine and causes imbalances in gut health
As you can see, there are many causes of loose bowels in kids. This is why it is important to work with a practitioner to identify the cause and address it.
How can I know if my child is having loose bowel movements?
If your child is very young and you help them go to the toilet, checking their bowel movements is easy. But it’s important to talk to your kids about their bowel habits from an early age. I teach my kids that what comes out of them every day can tell us how healthy their tummy is.
Encourage your children to look at their poos, and let you know if things aren’t normal. If it’s coming out fast, that is a sign of loose bowels. The texture is another sign they can look for – if it’s watery, mushy or even in soft blobs, it indicates loose bowel movements. You can use the kids’ version of the Bristol stool chart to help them pick which type they are experiencing.
Why loose bowels can be a problem
Loose bowel movements are a sign that food is passing through the digestive tract too quickly. When food passes quickly, there is less time for the body to digest and absorb the nutrients from the food. Over time, loose bowels can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Many of these deficiencies can have significant negative effects on overall health, particularly with iron, zinc, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Loose bowel movements can also lead to dehydration. This might be quite obvious if it’s caused by gastro, but any kind of loose movement can mean greater losses of water from the body. It’s important to keep your child hydrated if they experience any looseness.
Loose bowel movements are more prevalent in kids with chronic conditions. This is because there are often gut issues at the root of chronic conditions. Kids with autism have a higher incidence of gut issues including loose bowels, constipation, or even both.
There is also a link between loose bowel movements and eczema. This may be because eczema is an issue with intolerance or allergy, so it may be the same root cause for both symptoms. Kids with food allergies will often have looser bowel movements, and they often have other intolerances alongside the food allergy.
What to do if your child is experiencing loose bowel movements
Identify the root cause
To treat loose bowels most effectively, you need to know the cause. The treatment will vary depending on what the problem is. This is particularly true with parasites and food intolerances.
There are a few telltale signs that hint at parasites as the cause of loose bowels. Any recent travel, particularly to a tropical location, is a giveaway. Symptoms will usually have a sudden onset, but it can occur a few weeks after returning from your travels.
There are many symptoms that can come with parasites. Pain, bloating, discomfort, gas and weight loss are common signs. There can also be flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and even fever.
You can get testing done for parasites with your GP, although their tests are fairly basic and check for the most common parasites. If a test does come back clear, but you strongly suspect parasites for some reason, seek advice from your naturopath.
It’s important to remember that the gut microbiome is a big mix of bacteria, yeast, viruses and more. So when it comes to parasites, you might think it’s just about clearing out the bad guys. But it’s not always that simple – you will often find parasites and worms in a healthy gut!
One field of study, helminthic therapy, looks at adding worms to the gut to protect against autoimmune and allergic conditions. So remember that parasites are a problem if they are causing symptoms, but could be protective otherwise.
Unlike parasites, food intolerances will generally not have a sudden onset of symptoms. The symptoms will be related to consuming a particular type of food.
That being said, it’s not always easy to identify food intolerances. This is because you can experience symptoms of food intolerances up to 72 hours after consuming the food.
There is a range of intolerances that can occur, but there are three that I see most commonly with loose bowels:
- Dairy – whether it is an intolerance related to lactose or casein, it can lead to diarrhoea or looser movements. If you suspect dairy as a problem, you can try cutting it out completely for 6 weeks and then reintroducing it
- Fructose – this sugar is found most commonly in fruits such as apples and pears. If your child seems to have issues with fruit and honey, you can try removing high fructose foods for several weeks before reintroducing
- FODMAPs – this group of naturally occurring carbohydrates is found in nutritious foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy. But an intolerance can lead to loose bowels
Other intolerances such as gluten, eggs, soy and corn may also cause loose bowel movements. Because it can be difficult to pick intolerances, it’s best to seek professional advice to identify the problem food or foods.
Focus on building up their gut health
Whenever I work with clients, we will always focus on building up gut health as a foundation. There are so many factors within our modern lifestyle and diet that deplete gut health, which is one reason why the rates of childhood health issues are on the rise.
Supporting gut health will boost your child’s immune system and protect them against infection. The healthier their microbiome, the less vulnerable they are to any invading germs.
Building up gut health can also improve tolerance to foods. If you just remove more and more foods from someone’s diet, the more sensitive they will become. It’s why I don’t recommend elimination diets as a sole treatment for food issues.
The best way to build gut health is to focus on increasing the diversity of the microbiome, or gut microbes. A healthy, diverse microbiome equals healthy bowel movements. There are many ways you can build up gut health and diversity through daily and weekly practices.
Minimise factors that damage gut health
As I mentioned, there are many factors that deplete the gut. Whenever possible, you want to minimise factors such as:
- High sugar intake
- Medications such as antibiotics
- Preservatives and additives
- Environmental sources such as antibacterial cleaning and personal care products
I explain these in further detail in my gut health ebook – the link is listed at the end of this article.
Most people think of fibre as helpful for constipation. Some even think that it can make loose bowels worse. But you actually want plenty of fibre in a child’s diet if they have loose bowel movements. Fibre will absorb the excess water in the bowels, making the stool firmer.
Many high-fibre foods also contain prebiotics – the fibre that feeds the good bacteria in the gut. Foods like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains such as oats and buckwheat can support a more diverse microbiome.
Try a colostrum supplement
As long as your child tolerates dairy, bovine colostrum may be a good supplement to try. It supports the gut and immune system by preventing bad bugs from sticking to the gut wall, which means those bugs can’t take hold and make you sick.
Colostrum can also bulk up bowel movements, which is useful for loose bowel movements. I use a powder form, as it is easy to sprinkle over breakfast or add into smoothies.
Probiotics will help support the gut and increase diversity. There are many different strains of probiotics that you can find in fermented foods and in supplements. The best strain for your child is best determined by a professional, as it can depend on the cause of the loose movements.
That being said, there are two strains that are particularly beneficial for loose bowels. L rhamnosus GG is great for general gut health and diversity. Although it is only one strain, it can enhance the growth of other good bacteria.
L plantarum is another strain that is particularly useful for reducing inflammation in the gut. This can make it a good choice for IBS symptoms, bloating, pain and excess wind.
Loose bowels are a sign that your child’s gut health is out of balance. Find out how you can improve their gut health naturally with my free Kids Gut Health ebook – you can download it here.