I’m going to preface this post by pointing out that I am not a health professional. I am the mother of a kid who gets constipated. We have spent almost three years dealing with this issue and have picked up some valuable information.
If you have a child less than a year old who has constipation talk to your doctor. Breastfed babies do not suffer from constipation very often and sometimes a formula fed baby just needs a change in formula. If you have a child over a year old who suffers from more than occasional constipation talk to your doctor. The tips and knowledge I am going to share are, for the most part, for children over a year – although I do have a few tips that apply to infants as well.
My daughter has always suffered from bouts of constipation. I’m sure some day she is going to be old enough to read this and be horrified that I wrote about her bowel movements but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Occasional constipation is not a big deal. If you aren’t eating right, are laid up, or get dehydrated you might having trouble pooping. This applies to kids and adults. Chronic constipation is a whole other ballgame. The same principles apply – eat right, keep hydrated and get active – but sometimes that just isn’t enough. Left untreated it just continues to get worse. Stools become hard and difficult to pass so kids start to hold it in. Then the bowel gets stretched and loses muscle tone and the nerves don’t do their jobs properly sending those all important messages to the brain that it’s time to poop. It’s a vicious cycle and needs to be broken.
In most cases, as I mentioned above, lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. It’s especially important when dealing with constipation in kids to manage their diet. Here is a handy list that suggests food that both help and hurt constipation. It applies to kids and adults.
Water, Fibre and More Water
Two of the most important dietary factors when dealing with constipation are ensuring enough fibre and enough water. Remember when you are adding fibre to your child’s diet (or your own), especially in the form of grains, it is essential that you also increase their intake of water. Increasing fibre and not consuming enough water will only make constipation worse! Fibre intake from fruits and most vegetables (especially raw ones) comes hand in hand with fluid intake because the fruits and veggies contain water. However, some vegetables – like carrots – are quite high in fibre but when they are cooked lose so much moisture that all that extra fibre without the extra water can be problematic.
My daughter always has water handy. We keep a cup of it on her play table in the living room, on the table during meals, a water bottle when we go out. It’s just always there and she drinks it.
Another favorite in our home to avoid or relieve constipation is flax seed. I have a bag of ground flax seed on the kitchen counter and add it to anything that I possibly can – salads, cereal, ground beef. I use it in just about everything that I bake. It is a great source of fibre, is low in carbohydrates, and packed full of Omega3s. I also keep flax seed oil around. It is a great natural “laxative” without any of the side effects of laxatives. You can add it to many things as well – pudding, milk, smoothies, oatmeal, anything. You cannot cook with it (it loses all its good stuff when you do) but can add it to just about anything after it’s cooked. It’s quite mild in flavor and my daughter never even notices it. It is also rich in Omega3s. We actually give it to our daughter daily not only for her bowels but also because Omega3s are a natural anti-inflammatory which is great to help manage her asthma. Helpful Hint
– Flax seed oil does not have a long shelf life. Unless you plan to consume a lot of it do not buy it in a bottle. Instead buy it in capsule form (you will find it on the shelf with vitamins, etc. in your drugstore). The capsules will last much, much longer. Simply give the capsule a poke or snip with scissors and squeeze the oil out. Dr. Sears
reccomends the following dosage:
Infants: one teaspoon a day
Toddlers: two teaspoons a day
Children and adults: one tablespoon a day
Exercise is important to keep things regular. Make sure your child is engaging in plenty of physical activity every day!
Encouragement & Reminders
In our house talking about poop is as normal as talking about the weather (read 50 Shades of Poop
). Sometimes kids get busy and may ignore the urge to poop because they are just too engaged with what they are doing. Remind them! Since eating can stimulate the need to go it is really important to have your kids eat meals on a regular basis. That helps them form a schedule which can be vital to the constipated prone kid.
We also provide lots of encouragement when it comes to pooping. It’s not uncommon to hear mom or dad say “Great poop honey. Good job!”. Most of the time when our little one does her number two she will come and proudly tell me “I pooped mommy!”.
Suppositories, and I am talking about glycerin suppositories, should be used sparingly but they can be extremely helpful so don’t be afraid to use them when necessary. For babies under a year you might want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist first. For babies between 1 and 2 years take a standard child suppository and cut it in half, discard the wide end and gently insert the smaller tapered end into the rectum. For kids over two you can insert the entire suppository.
The suppository serves a couple of purposes. First the glycerin will help soften the stool to make it easier to pass and it also stimulates their natural instinct to bear down and push. If the stool is impacted (very hard) try to encourage them to not push right away. It takes about 15-20 minutes for the glycerin to dissolve enough to soften the stool. However, if the stool isn’t super hard or they just can’t resist that urge to push just go with it.
There are medicated suppositories with laxatives as well but never use them in a child of any age without the advice of your doctor.
Massage can work wonders for the constipated (and/or gassy) baby or child. It is safe, gentle and therapeutic. It’s really easy to learn but it is important that you do learn to do it properly or you can make matters worse. The key is to always move your hands in a clockwise motion and when working on the left side (which is where your focus will be) never work in an upward direction.
The technique I use is the “I Love You” massage:
Always talk to your doctor before starting a child on stool softeners. But again, don’t be afraid to use them if it’s necessary. If you are dealing with chronic constipation it is really important to break that cycle and give the bowels and colon a chance to shrink back to normal size. It’s also important to soften the stool if your little one has been dealing with large hard stools that cause pain on passing. This will make them afraid to go! Never use laxatives on children (which are different than stool softeners) unless your doctor specifically prescribes or recommends one (which is rare).
There are a couple of over the counter softeners that your doctor may recommend – Lactulose and Polyethylene Glycol (Miralax in the US and RestoraLAX in Canada). Both work essentially the same way by drawing water into the bowels to soften the stool. They are not as harsh or habit forming as laxatives and pretty safe and effective in kids – but again talk to your doctor before starting either of them!
There are several other factors that can cause constipation in both kids and adults:
- Food allergies
- Other underlying health conditions
- Potty training too early
If you suspect any of these factors may be causing constipation in your child talk to your doctor.
Chances are you will deal with some constipation with your little one(s) at some point but I hope you never have to deal with chronic constipation. Unfortunately it does tend to run in families and although it’s never really been an issue with me (except when I had undiagnosed IBS) it seems to be prevalent on my husband’s side of the family.
Most of the time simple, but consistent, changes will be all it takes to get things back on track again.