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6 ways to support your child with Crohn’s or colitis

Written by
Brittany Rogers, MS RDN
November 9, 2022
Male couple with child

It’s hard to watch your child have symptoms of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to help them feel better but it can be difficult to know where to start and to ensure you’re doing absolutely everything you can.

Here are 7 ways you can support your little one with IBD.

1. Make sure they’re taking their medication independently

As soon as they’re able to take on this responsibility, they should. Having a pill organizer and a consistent routine helps establish a habit of taking their medications when they’re supposed to.

The Crohn’s and Colitis foundation has a great set of resources for parents, including how to talk to your child about their medication. 

2. Make sure they’re not losing weight & monitor their growth

Ask your pediatrician, gastroenterologist, or IBD dietitian how your child's height and weight compares to the Center for Disease Control's growth charts.

Lack of weight gain and growth delays are red flags for nutritional status and disease activity so make sure you reach out to their gastroenterologist and IBD dietitian as soon as possible if your child isn’t gaining weight or growing like they should be. 

3. Keep their diet as expansive as possible

In certain situations, your gastroenterologist and/or registered dietitian may recommend your child use a specialized diet for a short period of time (e.g. as first-line treatment to induce remission in pediatric Crohn’s disease patients). Once that period is over, your child's diet should expand to a healthy variety of foods.

Monitor your child's relationship with food and pay particular attention to behaviors like delaying or skipping meals, fear of foods/eating, secret eating, or other concerning food behaviors. If your child is having trouble consuming a wide variety of foods or you suspect their relationship with food may not be in a good place, reach out to a pediatric IBD dietitian to help.

Your dietitian will be able to help them expand their diet and improve their relationship with food.

4. Make sure they’re getting checked for nutrient deficiencies

During active disease, nutrient deficiencies can arise from inadequate food and nutrient intake, decreased absorption of nutrients in the intestines, or increased loss due to more frequent bowel movements.

Avoiding a lot of foods and/or food groups can also increase the risk for nutrient deficiencies. As a result, it’s important that children with IBD be checked regularly for nutrient deficiencies.

The most common deficiencies in children with IBD are iron and vitamin D. Zinc deficiency, while rare, may be more likely to occur in children with Crohn’s disease compared to the health population. Deficiencies in vitamin B12, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and selenium are also rare1.

Your child’s gastroenterologist can order labs to check for nutrient deficiencies and may recommend you work with an IBD dietitian

5. Make sure they’re taking a multivitamin

All children benefit from a multivitamin, but especially those with Crohn's/colitis as nutrient deficiencies are common. Talk to your child’s IBD dietitian about what to look for in a multivitamin. 

6. Make sure they have support

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely created a home environment for your child that is supportive to their needs.

While family support is foundational, children with IBD can also greatly benefit from peer support. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation hosts a number of peer-support initiatives and programs for children including support groups, retreats, one-on-one mentoring and more.

Your child may also benefit from talking to a professional, such as a gut psychologist, to help cope with their condition. Children and teens with IBD may have a wide range of worries that they don’t vocalize to you that may be weighing on them.

Gut psychologists are experts in the gut-brain connection and can help your child learn to cope with their condition and implement evidence-based practices to improve their quality of life. The ROME foundation has a great resource to find a gut-specific psychologist in your area

Key Takeaways

As a parent of a child with IBD, be sure they’re taking their medication independently and that their growth is on track; help keep their diet as expansive as possible, have them checked regularly for nutrient deficiencies, and make sure they’re taking a multivitamin.

Finally, make sure they have the family, peer, and professional support they need to cope (and ultimately thrive) with their condition. 

Your child appreciates your support more than you could ever know. Keep up the good work and don’t forget to prioritize your own health as well!

References

  1. Fritz J, Walia C, Elkadri A, Pipkorn R, Dunn RK, Sieracki R, Goday PS, Cabrera JM. A Systematic Review of Micronutrient Deficiencies in Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2019 Feb 21;25(3):445-459. doi: 10.1093/ibd/izy271. PMID: 30137322.
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