Digestion, resting and making food fun—PTC’s speech therapist Madeleine D’Andrea talks the importance of all of it
Digestion is the Foundation for a Healthy Body
For parents of children receiving speech therapy swallowing is often the main concern, says speech therapist Madeleine D’Andrea of PTC.
But she also points out that we often get so preoccupied with simply getting food into the patients’ body we don’t think about what happens to it next. Or what mental state the child should be in to digest their meals properly.
Fight or Flight vs. Rest and Digest
There are two modes the body can be in, fight or flight, or rest and digest.
When the body is anxious, one of its last concerns is digestion. Instead, the food simply sits in the stomach, causing heaviness and an inability to reach appropriately low stomach acid levels. This leads to multiple problems such as acid reflux, excessive fullness, heartburn, and constipation. And, on top of this, the body isn’t absorbing the nutrients it needs to function at full capacity.
Swallowing is Stressful!
Because so many patients have issues around swallowing it makes meal times a stressful event. This creates a “fight or flight” state in the body, making digestion painful or even nonexistent.
So how can parents make sure their children are “resting and digesting?”
Remove as much anxiety from meal times as possible. D’Andrea suggests quite a few things such as:
- Reading a book while eating
- This distracts them from their stress
- The “Winner Dinner Plate”
- A board game plate where food is placed within panels, alternating between desirable and less desirable bites of food, with the most desirable bite being at the end. When kids finish the game they are a “winner”
- Involving the kids in the food making process
- This helps the child understand what goes into their meal, as well as giving them a sense of ownership and pride over it
- Teaching your child about food and what it does for your body
- Eating a bite of chicken corresponds with energy to play later, and veggies with the ability to think clearly. If kids know why the food is important and how it can help them, they may be more likely to eat it
Make the situation as positive as possible!
Acid Activation and Probiotic Pointers
Ensuring your child is eating isn’t always enough. When stressed, kids can claim they’re full before they actually are because their stomach isn’t producing enough acid.
A way to jump-start the creation of stomach acid is to give your child a food to prompt and add an increase in acidity. Options include pickle juice, digestive bitters, or lemon water. A dash of apple vinegar cider in water works too.
Follow this up with foods high in probiotics to help protect the intestinal lining and create an overall more healthy digestive system and body. The Vagus nerve, found in the intestine, serves as a relay between the brain and intestines. And many diagnoses, including autism, see improvements by healing the gut-brain axis.
D’Andrea recommends these foods for their probiotic properties:
- Kumbucha—a fermented tea flavored with fruit (it’s a fizzy and fun drink)
- Yogurt—home-made preferred, since store bought usually lacks high levels of probiotics
- Kefir—yogurt-like and higher in probiotics
- Any fermented vegetable or even juices of one (start with a teaspoon)
- Creating calm around meals helps your child stay healthy
- Acidic foods jump start our stomachs
- Probiotics heal our gut-brain axis, and
- Make food fun!
Check back in a couple of weeks for more tips on nutrition for your child
If your child is experiencing any issues with swallowing or eating, contact Pediatric Therapy Center for an appointment with one of their experienced speech/oral motor therapists at 713-772-1400