Oliver started daycare last Thursday. One of my first thoughts upon entering the centre and seeing 11 other little vectors sharing toys and a single change table was, “Oliver is going to get sick. A lot.” At almost six months old, Oliver’s immune system is far from mature — and everything he touches goes into his mouth. He is still breastfed, of course, but breastfeeding has its limitations, especially when a baby is exposed to a pathogen to which his mother has not been exposed.
The daycare had a notice posted declaring that their recent gastrointestinal outbreak was officially over — that is to say, there had been no new infections within the preceding 48 hours. Apparently they failed to take into account that six new children started attending the centre within that 48 hour period, all of whom would have been susceptible to any lingering germs on toys and other surfaces.
As predicted, Oliver got sick.
J and I were extremely diligent about washing our hands and sanitizing surfaces after every diaper change or vomit, and by the time we went to bed Saturday night, we were feeling pretty good about our odds of having escaped the affliction.
But it was not to be, and both of us woke up sick Sunday morning. We are past the worst of it now, but still unable to eat much in the way of solids without, um… consequences.
So how does a Paleo adherent survive and recover from a stomach bug without resorting to the decidedly un-Paleo BARF (bananas, applesauce, rice cereal, formula) and BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) diets that are commonly recommended for babies and children/adults respectively?
Firstly, it must be said that for babies, vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, a life-threatening condition that can deteriorate very quickly. As soon as we realized Oliver was sick, we called HealthLink (8-1-1) to speak to a nurse and determine whether we needed to bring him to see a doctor. Once it was determined that Oliver was not exhibiting any signs of dehydration, we began treatment at home.
The nurse suggested administering Pedialyte, but we were not keen to give Oliver a product containing sucralose, acesulfame potassium and artificial flavour (though we would of course do so in an urgent situation). My instincts told me that the very best thing I could give to Oliver would be unimpeded access to breast milk. I began to feed him in brief but frequent sessions, which helped both to keep the milk down and to prevent dehydration (since foremilk has a higher water content than hindmilk). We did not give any solids, as we knew they would only serve to further upset his compromised digestive tract.
We also increased Oliver’s consumption of baby probiotics, in order to repopulate his gut flora and hopefully help him to fight the bug more quickly.
The vomiting ceased immediately after switching to shorter feedings, and three days later, Oliver seems mostly back to normal (save for being a little bit more tired and cranky than usual).
Breastfed babies are easy, but what about older babies, children and adults? Here is how we have been dealing with the unpleasantness, without deviating from our Paleo plans:
In the acute phase, the less one takes in, the less comes violently flying out one end or another. Because dehydration is always a concern, we tried to take tiny but frequent sips of water (note: if this causes you to run to the toilet after every sip, it is actually better to wait until water is tolerated than to risk losing more fluids). Later, we tried some herbal tea (e.g. mint and chamomile) to settle the stomach and diluted coconut water (about one third coconut water to two thirds water) to help restore electrolytes.
Once we could keep things down (and in) for any length of time, we began drinking bone broth, which helps to restore minerals lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Homemade broth is always best, but in a pinch, broth made from scratch in a restaurant or grocery store is infinitely better than the processed, packaged stuff you’ll find on the grocery store shelves. We had a friend bring us some chicken broth from Whole Foods (made in store) and it was actually quite good.
Once we started to feel a little bit better, we made smoothies from coconut milk, unsweetened almond milk, a little bit of fruit and a dose of Bio-K+ probiotics. I have learned from past experiences that high-potency probiotics help me to tolerate regular food much sooner than I otherwise would. I particularly like Bio-K+ because it is live, raw and extremely potent. It is expensive, at more than three dollars per single-dose bottle, but worth its weight in gold during times of illness. I start by taking half a bottle a day, and increase to as much as two bottles per day until all of my symptoms are gone. I prefer the original, unadulterated, fermented dairy version, but for those averse to the taste of sour milk, there are sweetened and flavoured varieties, as well as rice and soy based versions.
Next, we tried some solid food: scrambled eggs. This was relatively well tolerated, and we thought we were on the mend. J also had a little bit of roast chicken without much trouble. Then, this morning, we got excited (starving, actually) and decided to try bacon and eggs for breakfast. This was a stupid idea, and I think we both knew it at the time. Animal fats do not help an upset stomach. We have probably set our recovery back by a day, if not more.
Tomorrow, if we’re feeling better, we will stick to eggs, chicken, small amounts of fruit and cooked vegetables. Hopefully, by being kind to our stomachs for another day, we will be able to resume eating our regular favourite foods by the end of the week.
The last two times I suffered from gastroenteritis, I followed conventional wisdom and ate easily-digestible carbohydrates, à la BRAT diet. In both cases, it took me two to three weeks before my digestion was fully back on track, and even longer to overcome the resultant carb addiction. I can’t help but think that this experiment will result in a faster recovery, with the added benefit of not having derailed our Paleo eating.
Have you ever tried sticking to a Paleo diet when you’re feeling sick, or do you reach for the carb-laden comfort foods of days gone by?