How to prepare to do the GAPS introduction diet

When I was starting the GAPS introduction diet with my children, I spent a few months preparing.  However, in the last minute stress of the situation, I forgot to wean myself off coffee!

Here are my tips to help you prepare effectively!

  1. It is essential to read the “Gut And Psychology Syndrome” book by Dr Natasha Campbell McBride. It would be unwise to start the GAPS diet without reading the book.  It is not a light read however, so allow yourself some time to do this.  Break it down in chunks and read a small bit at a time, to make sure you fully understand it.


  1. If you are on a standard Australian diet (a SAD diet), make the transition to a whole foods diet first. Move away from takeaways and processed food, and on to a diet with good quality meat and vegetables.  This will make the transition to GAPS easier, and makes it easy for your body to deal with physically.


  1. Set a date to start. The date might be a year away or a month away, but you should plan towards it.  Things you might want to achieve between now and starting might include: getting you partner involved, learning how to make fermented food, cleaning up your pantry and reducing takeaways.  It is easier to start introduction with kids at the start of the school holidays.  You don’t have to worry as much about packing soup in their lunch box, or peer pressure from their friends.  It also makes it easy to win them over with rewards, like going horse riding, some surfing lessons or just a day at the beach.


  1. It can be really worthwhile getting a GAPS coach early on as you transition. They will help you understand your physical symptoms and guide you on foods and supplements.  They also motivate and encourage you to keep going.


  1. Buy a few recipe books. My favourites are “The Heal your Gut cookbook” by Hilary Boynton and Mary G Bracket, and “Life Changing Food” by Jo Whitton and Fouad Kassab.  These books explain how to make the ferments, soups and casseroles.  The first book talks you through each stage in detail.


  1. Make some sauerkraut juice. You can buy sauerkraut if you don’t want to make it yourself, just buy an unpasteurised brand.  It is hard to buy plain sauerkraut juice, and it gets extremely expensive to buy sauerkraut just for the juice.  So about a month before you start, make some sauerkraut juice so you have it available to add to every bowl of soup.  I made a video to explain how to make it


  1. Work out your best source of grass fed or organic meat. It is cheaper to buy meat in bulk, and keep in the freezer.  Do some research and find out who delivers in your area, and have a chat to them about their farming practices.  Ask if they sell any packs which contain a lot of the joints of meat, like lamb shanks and lamb necks.  If they supply offal too, that it good, as it can be hard to source organic offal.


  1. Detox your home. If you use a lot of cosmetics and cleaning products, it is time to evaluate if you really need them.  Moving to more natural packaged alternatives can be expensive, so you might want to cut out a lot of things entirely.  Most cleaning products can be replaced with vinegar, bicarb soda and some essential oils.  Washing your child’s hair with a fragranced shampoo every day is also not necessary.  A wash every week or so with a plain unfragranced shampoo is fine.  Children don’t need any other products, unless they have eczema when they might need an emollient.


  1. Buy a water filter. The water filter you choose depends on budget and whether you rent.  If you can plumb in a water filter, a carbon filter is sufficient.  You don’t need to buy a reverse osmosis filter for GAPS.  It is also a good idea to put filters on the bath and shower so you don’t rinse in chlorine.  A whole house filter might seem like a good idea, but they are very expensive, and your water might be getting contaminated by the pipes inside your house.


  1. Meal planning. Familiarise yourself with what you can eat at each stage, and plan some meals you think your family will enjoy.  Get your kids involved in the meal planning and recipes, to give them a sense of ownership of the process.


  1. Start to reduce coffee and alcohol intake. In introduction diet, there is no coffee or alcohol.  It is wise to start to reduce well in advance, otherwise you will be dealing with coffee withdrawals at the same time as preparing lots of food and dealing with children.


Best sources of iron for kids

It has been drummed into us that babies need to start solids, specifically fortified rice cereal, by the age of 6 months in order for them to top up their iron stores.  Human breast-milk is low in iron, so it is true that iron stores will get depleted if that is all that is eaten.  What isn’t true is that fortified rice cereal is the best way to top them up.  Did your baby start solids and magically and suddenly get constipated?  That’s because the form of iron that cereal is fortified with is the same as in cheap iron supplements, notorious for making adults constipated.  I made the mistake of giving my first child rice cereal, and watched the discomfort she went through with constipation straight away.  With my next two children, I skipped the rice cereal, and the constipation.

Why do we need iron?

Iron is a trace mineral that we need to make red blood cells.  These cells transport oxygen around our body.

Children need iron to keep their immune systems strong, to help them grow, and for brain development.  If they don’t get enough iron, they can be pale and listless, and have lower energy levels than their friends.

They can also get headaches and be breathless when they run around.

Not having enough iron can reduce your appetite, making it a vicious cycle.

Iron deficiency is also linked to restless legs.

What clues are there that my child might be low in iron?

  • Your child really, really, likes to eat ice
  • Your child is very sensitive to the cold
  • You child is very prone to infections
  • You child gets tired very easily, or lacks energy
  • You child has very brittle fingernails
  • Your child has a swollen tongue

These might prompt you to get a blood test done, by your GP or Nutritionist.

What types of iron are there?

There are two different type of iron – haem and non-haem.

Haem iron will come from animal products.

Non-haem comes from plants, animals and supplements.

Haem iron is the type that the body can most easily use.  Non-haem iron is poorly absorbed, but eating with vitamin C can improve absorption.

About half the iron in meat is haem, and the rest is non-haem, so it is good to have vitamin C when eating meat.

How can I get iron from my food?

Haem sources include:

  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Red meat
  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Eggs

Non-haem sources include:

  • Molasses
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Tomato paste
  • Lentils
  • Dried apricots
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pecans

As you can see, it is much easier to get the iron from the haem sources than the non-haem sources.  If you are bringing your child up to be vegetarian or vegan, you will need to carefully construct each day’s menu to ensure a good intake of iron.

If your child is on reflux medication, you need to work extra hard to make sure they get enough iron.  This medication will reduce the absorption of iron.

Too much iron can be as bad as too little, and some people are genetically programmed to hang on to too much iron.  That’s why you should never supplement iron without having a blood test to check levels first.

Luckily, it is hard to overdose on iron when you are just eating food.  The body is clever enough to absorb more iron when your stores are low, and absorb less iron when your stores are sufficient.

Thinking of doing GAPS on a holiday?

I recently spent the school holidays doing the GAPS introduction diet with my children.  We decided to pack up and go on holidays for 2 weeks to make it easier, which worked really well.  It took a while to prepare and pack, so have a read if you are thinking of doing something similar.

Here are some things you will need to pack:

  1. Slow cooker

The slow cooker is invaluable when you are doing the GAPS introduction diet.  Put it on LOW at night time for breakfast, then on HIGH in the morning for lunch.  Then put in on HIGH at lunch time for dinner.  GAPS introduction is all about the soups and stews.  Lots of lamb shanks, chicken drumsticks and osso bucco.

Whatever is left in the slow cooker when everyone has filled their bellies, including the stock, puree it in the Thermomix or food processor to make soup for a snack later on.

  1. Thermal cooker (Thermo-pot)

The Thermo-pot is a great addition to the GAPS introduction diet when you are away from home.  If you want to go out for the day, you put lunch in the Thermo-pot.  At the same time put dinner in the slow cooker on LOW.

Most slow cooker recipes can be adapted for the Thermo-pot.  Lamb shanks, a whole chicken, or chicken drumsticks are ready in the Thermo-pot in 3.5 hours.  You just put everything in the Thermo-pot, bring it to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, everything has reached the right temperature.  Put the inner pot of the Thermo-pot in the outer part of the Thermo-pot, lock the lid and put it in the boot of your car.  Come lunchtime, food is ready!  Even if you aren’t doing GAPS, I think this is a great way to eat when you are on holidays and avoid fast food and poor food choices.

  1. Probiotics & Cod Liver oil

You will need a good quality probiotic and cod liver oil for GAPS introduction. The will need to be ordered from a practitioner before you leave.  Probiotics are critical to the success of GAPS, so pack enough for your entire trip, so you don’t get caught out in a small town without a practitioner.

  1. Sauerkraut juice

In the early stages of GAPS, the sauerkraut juice is consumed, not sauerkraut.  This takes a few weeks to ferment, so plan ahead and make it before you leave.  Not sure how to do this?  Check out my video:  Make enough for each person to have at least a quarter of a cup per day for Stage 1 and 2.

  1. 24 hour yoghurt / kefir / cultured cream

Familiarise yourself with how to make these before you go.  It is a good idea to make some yoghurt and cultured cream before you go, as it takes 24 hours to incubate.  Get to know what facilities you will have when you are away.  If your accommodation doesn’t allow you access to an electric oven, you may want to invest in a yoghurt maker to take with you.  Bring your kefir grains, and source organic milk along the way.  Travelling is a great opportunity to visit local farmers markets or even visit farms and buy milk directly from them.  All you need to make your kefir is 2 big glass jars, something to scoop out the grains after fermentation, kefir grains and milk.

  1. Thermomix

I definitely found my Thermomix invaluable for GAPS introduction.  As well as blending up the left overs from the slow cooker to make soup for snacks, I also made soup using chicken stock and vegetables.  Children especially can be fussy about the texture of soup, and the Thermomix give such a smooth, almost creamy texture.  I also used it to add honey and probiotics to kefir.

7.  Enema Kit

Enema’s are very useful in GAPS, especially if you are prone to constipation.  If you feel comfortable with the idea, learn how to do an enema and pack the kit with you when you go.  If you know the accommodation set up will not be conducive to this, you can research if there is anywhere to go for a colonic irrigation instead along the way.

8. Kitchen essentials

I bring my knives with me on holidays, as I get easily frustrated with a blunt knife!  Other kitchen essentials you might want to bring include: garlic press, potato peeler, a ladle, a slotted spoon, mason jars for storing leftovers, soup spoons.

  1. Epsom salts

These are great for detox baths, but many places to stay don’t have a bath.  Bring them along if you know you have a bath, otherwise lots of sunshine, fresh air and ocean swimming are really helpful for detoxing.

  1. Picnic set & Thermos

Buy a good quality picnic set made from either enamel or stainless steel, not plastic.  When you are having lunch out and about, you will need bowls and cups for your soup and stews.  It is also the time to dig out your thermos flask.  You will probably need a couple of these to keep soups warm.

6 surprising causes of migraines

Migraines are a very common issue, more so in women than men.  It is estimated that 18% of women and 6% of men are sufferers.

There can be lots of different reasons why people have migraines.

Most people are aware of the famous ones like red wine and chocolate, but what if you have cut these out and you don’t feel any better?

Where do you look for answers then?

Here are 6 causes of migraines that you may not have thought of:

  1. Heavy metal toxicity

This is nothing to do with listening to too much AC/DC in your youth.

Heavy metals include lead, mercury and cadmium to name but a few.

If you have been exposed to these, and your body has not detoxified them sufficiently, they will build up in your body and cause toxicity.

Toxicity leads to headaches and migraines.

You may want to have a think about times in your life where you might have been accidently exposed, such as during renovations or living near a busy road.

Exposure to cigarette smoke will lead to increased levels of cadmium.

Lots of amalgam fillings, some immunisations and lots of fish consumption can lead to high mercury levels.

If you have heavy metals in your body, it is possible to reduce levels through a specialised detoxification process.  A nutritionist can help with this.

  1. Gluten sensitivity

It used to be thought that only people with celiac diseases were sensitive to gluten.

There has been lots of research to show that this isn’t the case.  Something called non celiac gluten sensitivity exists.

There are a range of symptoms associated with this, including migraines.

If you are gluten sensitive, you need to adopt a 100% gluten free diet.  Just being gluten-free ‘most of the time’ will do nothing to improve your health, as it takes about 3 months for your body to recover after every gluten exposure.

Eliminating the grains normally associated with gluten (wheat, spelt, rye and barley) may not be sufficient.  You may need to remove all grains due to their proteins and cross contamination.

  1. Inflammation

In modern life, lots of people have a degree of low level, chronic inflammation.

This caused by eating too much of the wrong food, too much stress and not moving enough.  This is at the core of many of modern diseases.

Migraines too can be exacerbated by inflammation.

Inflammation affects the blood vessels and bony structures in the neck, making them sensitive.  Eating a Mediterranean style diet with adequate exercise and stress management will lower systemic inflammation.

  1. Medication over-use

When triptans were developed for migraine treatment, many thought that this was a miracle drug and all our migraine woes were over.

It is never that simple, unfortunately!

Triptans actually cause rebound migraines.  This is one of the most common causes of migraines.

Taking a triptan will get rid of a migraine, but low and behold, a few days later you get another migraine and you need to take another triptan.  And so the cycle continues.

It may be better to stop using triptans altogether and go cold turkey.

I used to use triptans regularly, until I realised they were becoming a major trigger for migraines!

  1. Coffee over-use

Tolerance for amount of coffee varies considerably from person to person, so it isn’t possible to say ‘stick to one coffee’ or ‘stick to two coffees’.

If you are relying on coffee for energy, you probably aren’t helping your migraines.

And if you suffer a migraine when you don’t get your morning coffee on time, you need to look at this as a trigger.

If you need to cut down on coffee, do it very gradually so you don’t trigger a migraine.  There are health benefits to coffee, it detoxifies and can treat a migraine as well as medication, so no need to eliminate it entirely.

  1. Leaky gut

The wall of your intestine can get damaged by eating processed food, taking medication and a stressful lifestyle..

The lining of the gut can start to have small gaps in it, and this is called leaky gut.

Your gut is then permeable to parts of food that it shouldn’t be.  That leads to food sensitivities and thus migraines.

By fixing a leaky gut, your body becomes less reactive to food.

Do any of these ring a bell for you?

If you would like to look beyond the wine and chocolate exclusion diet, get in touch for a holistic review of your health.

My 6 favourite uses for my Thermomix

Like most Thermomix owners, I can get a bit passionate when I start talking about it.  I always feel like I have to add a ‘by the way I don’t sell Thermomixes disclaimer’, or people would think I am putting the hard sell on them.

So, why do I love my Thermomix, and what do I use it for?

  1. Sunflower seed flour We are a wholefoods, gluten free family.

This is complicated by the fact that my 3 year old is highly allergic to nuts, chickpeas and lentils.

Most wholefood baking recipes use almond meal or besan (chickpea) flour, but we can’t use either.  This means I go through kilos of sunflower seeds, and make them into sunflower seed flour.

Whenever a recipe calls for almond meal, I substitute with sunflower seed flour.

Without a Thermomix, I would be a bit stuck.  I could do it in a normal food processor, but my experience is that this can put a bit too much strain on the motor, and eventually they burn out.  You can buy almond meal, but you can’t buy sunflower seed flour.

  1. Making soup.

We eat a lot of soup.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner can all be soup.  And if people are still hungry outside of these meal times…soup.

I make my own chicken broth, and have it available in the fridge or freezer.  This makes soup making a doddle.  There are even pre-programmed recipes in the Thermomix.

It takes a couple of minutes to assemble everything, and then 20-25 minutes to cook, and hey presto a healthy nutritious lunch.

The only down side is the size of the Thermomix.  You can only make a few bowls at a time, so there is never enough to freeze.

If I want to have enough to freeze, I make it in a big saucepan instead

  1. Mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes.

Being Irish, I am fond of the occasional spud.

The Thermomix makes great mash. The automated recipe uses milk, but I substitute this for chicken stock or bone broth for an extra nutrition boost.  It’s an easy way to get broth into my kids.

I can set the Thermomix up to cook, then go to do the daycare pick up and when I get back the mash is ready.

  1. Yoghurt.

It is so easy to make yoghurt or cultured cream using the Thermomix.

There is no fiddling around with thermometers, as the Thermomix has one built in.

I incubate the yoghurt in the oven with just the light on.  Having the oven light on generates just enough heat to incubate the yoghurt, and saves buying an extra appliance (a yoghurt maker)

  1. Finely chopping vegetables.

Although my kids are pretty good at eating their veggies, I take every opportunity to sneak more in.  If I am making a chilli or bolognaise, there is usually as much vegetables as meat in them.  They are not keen on onions or silverbeet, so I add these in, as well as the sweeter vegetables.  Sure, you could chop them by hand, but it would take a very long time and it would still be a fine dice.  This way you can puree them, and they make a rich homogenous sauce.

6. Kefir smoothies

I make my own kefir and serve it to my children in the form of a smoothie every day.  Doing this in a thermomix you can use frozen berries, frozen banana or whatever fruit you prefer.  The result is a cafe style smoothie, that your child will never guess is so good for them!

10 Lifestyle hacks for migraine sufferers

10 lifestyle hacks for migraine sufferers

Migraines are multifactorial.  That means there isn’t just one magic bullet.  If you are prone to migraines, you need to look at all aspects of your life.  We’ve all heard about migraine triggers, and probably tried to identify one.  The problem is, we all have lots of migraine triggers, which build up on top of each other.  We need to make lots of small changes, not just one big change.

This includes food, lifestyle, exercise, cosmetics, everything!

To help you get started on this journey, here are 10 things to change today to start to reduce the severity and frequency of your migraines.

1. Swap your evening cup of black tea or coffee for a cup of chamomile or passionflower tea. This reduces your caffeine intake, which is helpful as high caffeine intake can increase migraines.  It has the added advantage of hydrating and relaxing you.  Chamomile and passionflower are my two favourite herbal teas for a good night’ sleep.  Sleep quality will improve, which in itself is protective against migraines.

2. Change your pillow. Moulded, orthopaedic-style pillows keep your head, neck and spine in better alignment.  This reduces pressure on the sensitive blood vessels in your neck, which trigger migraines when irritated.  Floppy, soft, old pillows aren’t supportive enough.  If you find you wake in the morning will a headache or migraine, change your pillow.

3. Do you use perfume, fragranced body creams and deodorants?

No actual flowers have been harmed in the making of these products!

They are just cocktails of chemicals, blended together, which you then lather all over your skin.  These chemicals and fragrances can trigger migraines.  To smell a bit special, experiment with some essential oils, such as lavender.  These can actually help alleviate migraines.

4. Do you kick start your day with a cup of coffee? If you need the coffee, your adrenal glands may be under stress.  Test yourself and see if you can last until 10am until your first coffee.  If you can last the distance, you probably have your caffeine habit under control.

If you are a mess until the coffee, you may need to cut back, as your body is too dependent on it.  Instead, start the day with a big glass of water.  Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for a detox boost.  Your body will be able to rehydrate after the night before, and your liver will get a kick start.  An efficiently working liver is essential to avoid migraines

5. Non-stick (Teflon) cookware became fashionable when low fat was de rigueur.

Now we know that the low fat era was based on some fraudulent scientific data.  So it is time to revert to cast iron or stainless steel, and use some fat suitable for frying.  Removing Teflon from your food chain reduces the toxins in your food.  Less toxicity = fewer migraines

6. Do you love a glass of Shiraz in the evening? You may love the red wine, but unfortunately, it doesn’t love you back.  Red wine is a notorious migraine trigger.  Swap red wine for white wine, preferably organic and preservative-free.  Even with white wine, limit consumption.

7. Our other good friend chocolate is linked to migraines, although the jury is still out on this. It may be that a drop in our mood and blood sugar preceding a migraine triggers a craving for chocolate.  When the migraine comes on, we remember the last thing we ate was the chocolate.  But potentially, the craving was a symptom of early migraine, and the chocolate isn’t to blame.  To be on the safe side, swap chocolate for carob when the craving strikes.

8. Swap high glycaemic index foods for low glycaemic foods.

High glycaemic foods cause big swings in your blood sugar, which can lead to a migraine.  To move to a lower glycaemic load diet:

  • Eat more whole foods, and fewer processed foods.
  • Eat some fat and protein whenever you have carbs.
  • If you eat potatoes, rice or pasta, cook them the day before, let them cook, and then eat them. This dramatically lowers their glycaemic index.
  • Eat sourdough instead of other breads.
  • Eat beans and lentils instead of refined carbs.

9. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, take 5 minutes for some mindfulness practice. There are lots of great apps to help with this, such as Headspace. Forcing your body to relax, and de-stress will reduce migraines. It also helps you learn techniques to help deal with pain when you are suffering from a migraine

10. When you’re having a salad, choose some bitter vegetables such as rocket or radicchio. These stimulate the liver, which reduces toxins in your body, which will reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines.

The GAPS diet

What is the GAPS diet good for?

GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology syndrome or Gut and Physiology syndrome.

GAPS is a healing diet

The diet was developed by a Neurologist called Dr Natasha Campbell McBride.

When her son developed severe autism, she delved into the research to try to understand why he was autistic and how she could help.  From this experience, she developed the GAPS diet.

GAPS is based on another diet called the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) which has been used successfully to treat conditions such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis for many years.

The GAPS diet revolves around the fact that poor gut health leads to many chronic health conditions.  In children, this can be issues such as autism, ADHD / ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning difficulties, epilepsy, digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, food allergies and eczema.

There are 2 phases in the diet.  There is the Introduction phase of the diet, and the “Full” GAPS diet.

The introduction phase moves through 6 stages, designed to rebuild the integrity of the gut wall, and repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria.

The focus is on fermented foods, bone stocks and broths, lots of fat, non-starch vegetables and gelatinous meat.

As you would expect on any diet, there are no processed foods or fast foods.

How long it takes to get through the 6 stages depends on how severe your symptoms are to start off with.  It could be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months.

Once you move through the 6 stages of the introduction diet, you move on to the full GAPS diet.  This will be your eating protocol for about 1.5 to 2 years.  It is more flexible, but the focus is still on whole foods.

Meals are generally eggs, meat, fish and vegetable with lots of broth!

GAPS also has a big focus on detoxing your entire life.  This includes juicing, safe sun exposure, Epsom salt baths, cutting out perfumed and fragranced personal care product, and generally following a healthy lifestyle.

Sounds pretty restrictive?

Yes, there’s no doubt that GAPS is a big departure from the standard Australian diet.  But let’s not forget that the standard Australian diet is making us sick.  Levels of food allergies, autism and auto-immunity have skyrocketed in the last decade.

Why would I do the GAPS diet?

You might look at doing the GAPs diet if you child has a behavioural diagnosis or allergy that conventional medicine can’t help.

Or perhaps you suspect your child has compromised gut health because of antibiotic overuse.

Or maybe you would prefer not to medicate your child.

Autism requires lots of specialist therapies, such as occupational therapy and speech therapy.  The GAPS protocol works alongside these to restore your child gut and help the therapies be more effective.

What happens after the GAPS diet?

Once you or your child have healed enough to come off the diet, you can start the gradual introduction of properly prepared grains and starchy vegetables.  Of course I would never recommend you jump back into the standard Australian diet, as it is not healthy for anyone.  But the good news is that if you have restricted your child’s diet because of food allergies or intolerances, you should be able to reintroduce some of these foods. 

So a couple of years of restrictive eating and intense gut healing will allow a wider range of foods to be eaten long term.

Where do I start?

Deciding to go on the GAPS diet can be overwhelming.

For that reason, you are recommended to speak with a Certified GAPS practitioner, like me.  I offer a 3 month coaching package to hold your hand as you transition your family.  If you are interested in finding out more about GAPS and whether it is right for your family, book in for a free 20 min chat and I can answer any questions you might have.

“GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.  The right of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Patent and Designs Act 1988”.
Breastfeeding a seriously ill baby

When I was pregnant with my second baby, we found out through routine scans that she had some serious heart defects.  She would be very sick when she was born. Needless to say, this was a terrifying time for my family.

As well as dealing with the emotional fall out from this, we also had to think on a very practical level about the logistics of the situation.  It would mean having our baby at a hospital with specialised facilities, 90 minutes from our home.  We would need to relocate our family for the duration of our baby’s hospital stay.  No one could say for sure how long that would be.  It could be 3 weeks or 3 months.

I have always put nutrition front and centre in my life, so one of my main concerns was:

“How would I be able to breastfeed?”

With breastfeeding, education and preparation are key. I ordered a top-of-the-line, double electric pump straight away, so I would be able to pump wherever I was.

Fast-forward 20 weeks, and my little girl came into the world kicking and screaming.  She was immediately rushed off to NICU, leaving me behind to learn the joys of expressing colostrum. The midwives supplied me with a syringe, and showed me how to express the few drops of colostrum into it.

It truly was a painstaking process – 20 minutes of manual expression yielded a few millilitres of colostrum. I set the alarm on my iPhone for every three hours.

Round the clock I collected a few more millilitres.

After a few days of hand expressing, my milk came in.  I was finally able to break out the Rolls Royce of breast pumps and start expressing large quantities of milk.

During this time, my baby was being fed total parenteral nutrition formula (TPN), directly into her vein. As she was having surgery, she was nil by mouth.

When she had recovered from her first surgery, she was able to have some colostrum via her nasal gastric tube. I watched in horror as the nurses gave her the entire quantity of colostrum at one time (about 150mls), and she proceeded to vomit it all up.

I was devastated.

Round the clock expressing for three days, and the liquid gold was wasted.

Luckily my milk came in with vengeance, and the supply was there for future feeds.  But she still missed out on the colostrum, which is full of antibodies and specially designed for newborns.

For the next two weeks, I continued to express and store my milk in the fridge for nasal gastric tube feeds. More surgery continued in this time, and with it came lots of worrying and waiting.

At one point, she was diagnosed with a chylothorax, which would mean a low-fat diet for six weeks unless her lymphatic system could recover. A low-fat diet for an infant involves taking a special formula, and breastfeeding is not allowed. I asked the doctors to let us challenge her with breastmilk after a few days on the low-fat formula, and she was fine.

This was such a relief, as it would have been so hard to keep expressing for another six weeks.

On day 16 I was elated to be told I could finally try to breastfeed.

With my first child, it took a few weeks to get her latching properly.  With this little one, she popped on like she had done it all before.

She never looked back. 

When you read about breastfeeding, you feel that unless you can do the kangaroo care (skin to skin contact) and get the baby breastfeeding within a few hours of birth, then you are doomed.

It was such a relief that this proved not to be true in our case.  This should give hope to other people in similar situations.

We had a wonderful breastfeeding relationship for the next 15 months, and it really helped us to bond given our rocky start. Not only that, we realised she had a dairy allergy at six months.  If I hadn’t been able to breastfeed, there wouldn’t have been many easy feeding choices available to us.

Feeding my family healthy food is one of my main priorities in life, and breastfeeding is the first crucial step in this.  Not only is it the perfect nutrition for babies, but every feed tastes different depending on what the mother has eaten. One feed might taste of roast chicken, broccoli and carrots. The next feed could be beef stir fry with rice. When a child starts on solids, they have already been exposed to a wide range of flavours and will be more accepting of them, reducing the chance of a fussy eater.

If you are just about to start on your breastfeeding journey, good luck.  It can be a difficult process, but you will reap the benefits for years to come.


How to improve your gut health naturally

How to improve your gut health naturally

Everyone is talking about gut health these days.

But why does gut health matter?

How can you tell if your child has an issue with Gut health?

How do you improve gut health?

Why does gut health matter?

If you gut isn’t working right, your body isn’t working right.

Your child’s brain is part of their body, just like an arm or leg, so if their gut doesn’t work right, their brain won’t work right.

Pretty much most childhood conditions can be linked back to gut health:

  • Skin conditions such as eczema
  • Allergies and intolerances
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Learning or behavioural issues

How can you tell if your child has an issue with gut health?

There are some basic checks and measures you can do to check your child’s gut health.

  1. Visual

Whenever your child does a poop, have a look.  Luckily our little darlings can often forget to flush, giving us ample opportunity to do this.

If it floats, your child might be producing a bit too much gas, which might mean they have an infection or are lactose intolerant.

If the gas causes your child pain or discomfort, this is a sign that their gut health is out of balance.

You shouldn’t be able to see undigested food in the poo.  If you can,

  • They might be eating too fast
  • They might not be chewing enough. This is a common issue when they go to big school and they want to get off to play as soon as possible.
  • They might simply be eating too many hard-to-digest foods, like nuts.
  • They may have some inflammation or not enough stomach acid.
  1. Frequency

Check the number of bowel movements your child has each day.

The ideal number per day is very individual.  The rule of thumb is that most people should be moving their bowels at least once a day.

If it is less than that, increase the number of veggie servings.

  1. Transit time

Feed your child with a noticeably difficult to digest food, like corn or sesame seeds.  Note the time they eat the food, then wait until you see the food reappear.

Transit time should be 12-48 hours.

Longer than that, and the food is sitting up there a bit too long.

Longer than 72 hours is constipation.  Do the test 3 times and get an average.

  1. Bristol stool chart

This is the best way to describe poo formation.  It ranges from 1 (hard nuts) to 7 (diarrhoea).  If your child’s poo is in the 1-2 category or 6-7 category, you may want to take them to a gut specialist, such as a Nutritionist or Naturopath.  Check out the Bristol stool chart.

  1. Symptom score card

Does your child suffer from any of these issues?

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Loose stools
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Undigested food
  • Bad breath
  • Mucus in stools
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Chronic food sensitivities.

All these point to suboptimal gut health, which would benefit from gut healing

  1. Look for wrigglers

If you see something wriggling in the poo, your child has worms.

There are natural ways to get rid of worms, without resorting to medication.  These involve using essential oils or garlic.  It is really something you need to do with a Nutritionist or Naturopath, to make sure you don’t kill off good bacteria too.

The important thing is to keep the terrain of the gut healthy (See below, ‘How do I improve gut health’).  This means keeping all the bacteria in balance.  That way, they defend their territory and don’t let invaders like parasites or pathogenic (disease causing bacteria) take over.

  1. Specialised testing

You can do specialised gut testing with your Nutritionist or Naturopath.

This could be a stool analysis, breathe test or urine test and can assess how well your child’s digestive system is working.  It checks if there is anything there that shouldn’t be there, or something missing that should be there.

How do I improve gut health?

  1. Feed the good bacteria in your digestive system!

You do this by eating more fibre and unprocessed foods.

Highly processed foods are very easily digested., which means they’re completed digested early in the digestive process, and there is nothing left to feed the good bacteria in the bowel.

You have to feed the good bacteria with fibre, or they can start to attack the walls of the intestines.  This can trigger allergies and asthma.

Eat more whole foods.  Include lots of fruit, vegetables and nuts in your child’s diet.

  1. Bring in the cavalry

As well as feeding the good bacteria in your child’s gut, you want to boost the number of good guys in the bowel too.

Eating foods that contain bacteria is a good way to do this, including fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, live yoghurt or kvass.  You can make your own or buy in the health food shop.  Just make sure they aren’t pasteurised.

Highly processed yogurt doesn’t have these health benefits (and the ‘yoghurt’ topping on snack bars isn’t yoghurt at all.)

If you know your child doesn’t have enough good bacteria, because they have had antibiotics, or have allergies, they may need a probiotic supplement too.

  1. Eat dirt.

Not literally handfuls of dirt.

Just relax the sterility a bit.

Ditch the hand sanitiser.

Play outside and get dirty.

Do some gardening.

Get a pet.

Be sensible though — wash hands before eating, after blowing nose, or touching something contaminated (like poo, compost, or vomit).  Wash with soap and water, not antibacterial soap.

  1. Avoid medication.

Lots of medications are harmful to your gut, the most well-known being antibiotics.

Don’t get me wrong.  Antibiotics are life savers, but they are for emergencies only.

I have one child who wouldn’t be here today without the existence of antibiotics.

If your child needs antibiotics, start them on a probiotic immediately, but take it 2 hours away from the antibiotic.  This stops the harmful yeasts getting a hold on the gut

Ever taken an antibiotic and gotten thrush straight away?  That’s because yeast has taken over in the absence of good bacteria.

If your child has had multiple courses of antibiotics, they will need a good quality probiotic for the foreseeable future. Other medications are damaging too, including reflux medication, that is designed to reduce stomach acid. Guess what?  We need that stomach acid!  That is one of the body’s first lines of defence again infection.  Remove the acid, and the bad guys (worms, yeast and bacteria) get in a bit easier. Anti-inflammatories and asthma medication can also harm your gut.

5. The migrating motor complex

This is a really important factor which doesn’t get talked about too much.

Basically, the migrating motor complex (MMC) is the electrical activity of the muscle in the gut between meals.  It is responsible for keeping undigested food moving and moving bacteria from the small intestine to the large intestine.

It occurs in cycles, about every 1.5 – 2 hours.  It only works when you are not eating.  That means, if your child grazes continuously throughout the day, the MMC never kicks in.

This can lead to stagnation of undigested food, and over growth of bacteria in the small intestine.  So another important way to keep your child’s gut health is to stick to designated meal times and snack times only.

50 years ago, there were 3 square meals a day.

Now we have somehow moved to about 3 meals, 3 snacks, and possibly even some food in between there somewhere.

A lot of this change is driven by the food industry.

Think about it.

If you have to prepare food from scratch for 6-7 eating occasions per day – will you do it?

But if you can grab something off the shelf, you are much more likely to do it.

More snacking occasions = more food sales.

Some children need so much food, that they need 3 meals and 2 snacks, especially if they are little.  You will find if they are having whole foods with ample fat and fibre, they will get less hungry outside of these times.

Especially in the school holidays, I find myself having to write meal and snack times up on the fridge.  If anyone asks for anything outside of this, tough luck.

I’m only thinking of your migrating motor complex, darling.

  1. Add healing foods

Healing foods are natural foods that will help rebuild your child’s gut lining.

Introduce your child to some healing foods such as

Bone stocks and broths 

Organ meats like my Liver and Bacon recipe

Cold water fish such as salmon.  These are high in essential fatty acids and reduce inflammation in the gut

Cheaper cuts of meat such as Osso Bucco. 

The amino acid glycine is higher in cheaper cuts of meat, making it more healing.  Cook in the slow cooker, kids love the tender meat.

  1. Relax!

Stress and anxiety will play havoc with gut health and similarly, poor gut health will lead to stress and anxiety.

A great place to start with improving this cycle in kids is to have them play outside for 1- 3 hours a day, preferably in natural light to get the vitamin D level topped-up.

Try not to fight over food (says she who says your child must eat 5 veggies a day, fermented foods and less snacking!).

Try to model good food choices, don’t make veggies out to be punishment, or less appealing (‘you can’t have dessert unless you eat the broccoli’ is setting broccoli up as not appealing).

  1. Avoid irritating foods

For a lot of people, foods such as grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods or sugar may cause gut irritation.  Your child may have a food intolerance to a random food.

By identifying and excluding irritating foods for 6 months and working on gut healing, you may be able to reintroduce some of these foods later.

I hope you find this useful and it helps to put into perspective why you need to think about gut health in relation to you child.

If you think your child might need to improve their gut health, click here to arrange a FREE 20 minute PHONE HEALTH CHECK.

6 ways to help eczema (naturally!)

It is heartbreaking to see a baby or child with severe eczema. 

The constant itch disturbs sleep, and can be very frustrating (and as we all know, a frustrated child is a very grumpy child!)

Unfortunately, eczema is a very common condition.

Your child is more likely to suffer from eczema if there is a family history of eczema, hayfever or asthma.  Going to day care can make it even worse, and the dry climate we have in Australia can make the skin more sensitive.

The frequent treatment is steroid cream, but this can thin the skin over time, making it even more sensitive.Food allergies are a major trigger for eczema.  Environmental allergies can also be to blame.  Poor immunity and chronic stress are also important factors.

Healing has to come from within.

Topical treatments can be nourishing and relieve the symptoms, but until you can get to the root cause, you will have to apply topically for ever.

Don’t just accept it.

Sure, there could be a family history which is contributing, but you need to ask, why?

Maybe Mum or Dad also have candida which is why they have eczema.

Or maybe the whole family has a cow’s milk allergy which is causing the eczema.

Or maybe grandma’s gut was damaged by having multiple courses of antibiotics, which caused her eczema.

Natural treatments for eczema

  1. Diet

Diet is one of the biggest factors to consider, and also one of the most complicated.  There are a few ways you can approach it.

Elimination / reintroduction

The most common food allergens leading to eczema are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, soy and wheat.

You could try removing all of these at once, and see if eczema resolves.  If it does, you would then systematically reintroduce one at a time with a few days break in between each food.  This will be useful if your child is reacting to one of these common triggers.

In reality, any food can be causing a reaction.  For example, it could be plums that are causing the issue.  An elimination diet which goes through every single possible food is not realistic.

You can’t do an elimination diet of all foods!  

If choose elimination / reintroduction, it is crucial that you do the reintroduction stage, not just the elimination stage.

Food sensitivity testing

Testing your child is another option.  This will cost money, but you get to the answer much more quickly.  There are a few different ways to test your child for food sensitivities, including a skin prick test, a blood test or a hair test.  It is important to talk to a nutritionist about this, different types of reactions will need a different type of test.

For example, the skin prick test might come back with no allergens, but it only looks for what is called an IgE reaction.   This the type of allergic reaction which you can see instantly.  Like when a child eats a peanut and immediately get hives or swollen lips

Your child could have an IgG reaction to a food.  This sort of reaction doesn’t happen immediately.  It could happen after a few hours or a few days.  That makes it really hard to pinpoint and makes testing the best option.

Or your child could have a reaction which isn’t strictly an allergy, but more of a sensitivity, for which they would need a hair test.

Testing is a useful method, as it will find out if it is the random food, such a plum.  This can be a short cut to getting solution.

When it comes to babies and eczema, breastfeeding is still best. It helps build up your babies immune system and has all the nutrition they need. The flip side of this is that if you are eating foods the child is allergic to, these will be passing through your milk to your baby.  In that case, you need to look at your diet and eliminate the trigger foods.

  1. Gut repair

Gut health is talked about a lot these days and rightly so.

Health really does begin in the gut.

If your child’s gut health isn’t the best, it means that parts of food which shouldn’t be passing through the gut wall into the body, are getting through.

This creates inflammation,  increases food allergies, and the child’s immune system gets completely overwhelmed.

Addressing gut health is essential to treat eczema naturally.  Healing the gut will take time, but ultimately leads to a child being able to eat a much wider range of food.

This will also reduce sensitivity to environmental allergens such as dust mites.

  1. Supplements

Certain probiotics are really useful in the natural treatment of eczema.

The best ones to look is Lactobacillus rhamnosus GGStudies show that it is the most effective for treating eczema and allergies in general.  These are available in therapeutic doses from health care practitioners such as Nutritionists and Naturopaths.

A child with eczema most likely has gut issues so gut repair supplements such as those containing glutamine may be helpful.

Taking essential fatty acids in the form of evening primrose oil or fish oils will help the skin.  Some children respond better to evening primrose oil, some to fish oil. So you might need to try both.  If you try one and your child’s eczema flares up, stop using it again.

Zinc is crucial for healthy skin, and healing the skin.  Vitamin E is useful for reducing eczema, and asthma.  Vitamin D will reduce the severity of eczema.  When choosing supplements, it is best to buy from a practitioner such as a Naturopath or a Nutritionist.  Not only do they stock the high quality ones, they are also able to advise you what dose to take, and what interactions you need to be aware of.

Skin conditions respond slowly to supplementation, as the skin must regenerate which takes time.  So be prepared to take supplements for at least a month before you see an improvement.

  1. Oat Bath

Fill an old sock with whole oats, tie a knot in it and put it in the bath.  Put your child in the bath as usual, with the sock of oats. Give it a squeeze now and again to release the oat milk.  The compounds in the oats are very soothing to irritated skin.

  1. Removal of phthalates

This chemical is very difficult to pronounce (and even more difficult to spell!), and is found in many household goods.

But you’re thinking – I’ve never seen it listed on a cosmetics?

No, that’s because companies know that it isn’t very appealing, so it can just be included under ‘fragrance’.  No never use a product with ‘fragrance’ on your child’s skin.  Essential oils are different, some may be helpful in calming your child’s skin.

Phthalates are also found in plastic bottles, cutlery and plates.  So phase out the plastic.  You can get glass babies bottle, and stainless steel water bottles.  My kids use stainless steel cutlery, and the younger ones have stainless steel plates and bowls.  Check out camping shops or op shops for these.

Microwaving food in plastic releases the phthalates into the food.  If you choose to microwave, always transfer the food to a pyrex or ceramic bowl first.

To reduce your child’s exposure to phthalates:

Don’t expose your child to solvents (paint etc)

Buy chew toys from natural materials such as wood or natural rubber

Don’t use glad wrap (cling film)

Don’t use air fresheners

Don’t use insecticides.

  1. Consider candida

An overgrowth of candida in your child’s bowel can cause eczema.

How do I know if my child has candida?

Candida is just the technical term for thrush.  Did you child ever get thrush in their mouth when little?  Have they had nappy rash that you needed an antifungal for?  Has your child had antibiotics?

All these could be clues to candida.  To be sure, you could send some poo away for analysis through a Nutritionist or Naturopath,

If your child does have a candida infection, again, diet will need to be looked at.

Public enemy number one is sugar.  Sugar feeds yeast.  Sugar, fruit juice, honey and maple syrup will all need to but cut out to starve the candida.  Even the sugar in milk, lactose, is a favourite food for candida.  Foods that contain yeast such as cheese, dried fruits, peanuts and melons will all exacerbate a yeast infection.  Food allergies can also promote candida.

So remember, try to find out what is causing the eczema in your child, don’t just accept it!

Focus on finding the root cause and resolving it.

If you’d like to talk to me about your child’s eczema, get in touch here.