How a healthy family life can reduce the risk of childhood IBS

Parenting is hard. Parenting a child with IBS is even harder. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, it is estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of children will develop IBS at some point. The symptoms, such as abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation, may cause them to miss school, avoid extracurricular activities, and isolate from others. For parents, the time spent managing a child’s symptoms can be extremely stressful. Just how do kids get IBS?

A 2020 study published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility “found a marked tendency for IBS to cluster within families, especially among mothers who also suffer from anxiety, depression, and stress.” It pointed out that factors such as low birth weight or even the age of the mother could increase the likelihood of the child developing the condition later in life. The study also suggested that certain parenting behaviors could put children at higher risk for IBS. “Parental punishment, over-interference, rejection, and over-protection” could put children at risk for IBS.

While most parents can’t change what their child inherits from them, they can provide a safe and supportive environment that can encourage the children to flourish. Parents can also teach coping skills to deal with stress, anxiety, and peer pressure. In this issue of IBS Life, our editors reached out to two families asked them for suggestions on how to raise happy, confident kids.

“I think as parents, we do everything we can to keep our kids’ lives as least stressful as possible,” says Laura S. As a working mother, Laura runs her natural wine business while raising three children, aged two through six, with her partner. She also balances the individual needs of each child while maintaining their digestive health.

“We always try to eat as a family,” she said. “We give the kids a few servings of fruit and veggies a day and good foods for their stomachs and growing bodies. That’s not always easy with our picky ones, but they all like fruit, so that’s helpful.”

Maintaining a healthy, stress-free home for the children is also something Derek B. prioritizes. As a basketball fan, Derek has instilled in his two boys (and soon, a third child) a love of the sport from a very young age. He makes time daily to teach them basketball fundamentals after they leave nature school – in turn, they reward him with drawings of his favorite players. As a bartender, he is often away from home in the evenings, but he makes up the time with plenty of outdoors time in neighboring parks and nearby woods.

“Bartending is a stressful profession,” says Derek. “You have plenty of demanding guests, often going hours without eating. But I never bring the stress home. My wife helps a lot, putting them to bed early and making us all healthy foods.”

Whether through stress-free environments or a healthy diet, both Laura and Derek are proud to mention that none of their kids have IBS. While the focus of their parenting may not be on preventing the condition, both look at the lack of IBS as a positive. The well-being of their children’s mental health is paramount, but their gut health is just as vital.

“I used to have unhealthy eating habits before I had a family,” said Derek. “But now I bring food from home to work, drink plenty of water, and try to watch my sleep with the boys around. Even NBA playoffs games are stress-free when watching with them.”