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Constipation Frustration: A Dietary Approach to Your Child’s Bathroom Woes

Many parents worry that their child is not going to the bathroom enough and may wonder what they should do if their child is constipated. There are many things you can do as a parent to help with constipation!

What is “normal”?

Everyone has a different “normal” when it comes to bowel movements, ranging from multiple times a day to a few times a week. In infancy, the average number of stools could be 3-4 times a day or even once a week for breastfed babies. In general, the number of bowel movements decreases as they get older and reaches adult frequency by the preschool years. A good rule of thumb is if there is a sudden change in your child’s “normal” pattern, your child may be constipated and need your help.

Signs of Constipation in Children

  1. Few bowel movements. This is often the first clue you will notice especially if you are changing diapers or are potty training. Counting how many times your child is going to the bathroom at home and asking if they went to the bathroom at school could be a good start in tracking bowel movements.
  2. Straining while on the toilet. If your child takes a long time in the bathroom, is straining, or looks like they are in pain while going poop, this is often a sign of constipation.
  3. Swollen belly. If your child has a swollen belly or is experiencing abdominal pain, this could be a sign that they have poop backed up.

What are the causes of constipation?

  1. Changes in diet. If your child is eating a lot of sugary foods or junk foods, or starts eating more quickly, this can cause constipation.
  2. Not enough water. If your body doesn’t have enough water, it can make poop dry and hard to pass.
  3. Too much dairy. This is often a cause of constipation in younger children, but can affect children of any age.
  4. Not being active. Not enough activity can encourage bowel movements to stick around instead of moving along the digestive tract.
  5. Resisting or ignoring the urge. Some children have an uncomfortable experience and avoid going to the bathroom, or they don’t want to stop having fun so they stiffen or hide and resist the urge. Some children don’t feel the urge to poop if they are experiencing a lot of stress.
  6. Certain medications and vitamins. This can be a common symptom and should be mentioned to your primary care provider.

How can I help?

  1. Bathroom reminders! Invite your child to go to the bathroom regularly (like after every meal) to help them remember.
  2. Exercise! Get them to run around and increase physical activity to get things moving!
  3. Get more fiber! Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans to help the body move anything that is stuck.
  4. Prune juice, pear juice, and apple juice. Sorbitol is a kind of sugar in these juices that can help constipation. Children can drink 4 ounces a day to help constipation, but avoid extra sugar. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend juice for any baby less than one year old.
  5. Drink more water! As we increase fiber, we want to make sure there is enough water so that we don’t make constipation worse. Warm liquids may help, too.
  6. Limit dairy. Lower the amount of dairy your child is eating until bowel movements return to normal.

When should I be concerned?

If your child is less than one year of age and has not gone to the bathroom in 3 days or is vomiting, has a fever, or blood in their stool, contact your primary care provider.

Sources

Constipation in Children. Mayoclinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation-in-children/symptoms-causes/syc-20354242. Reviewed August 12, 2017. Accessed December 14, 2017.

Nurko, S., and Zimmerman, L. A. Evaluation and Treatment of Constipation in Children and Adolescents. American Family Physician. 2014; 90(2): 82-90. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/0715/p82.html. Accessed December 14, 2017.

What is Constipation? WebMD.com. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-diseases-constipation#2. Reviewed on November 13, 2017. Accessed December 14, 2017.

What juices can help relieve constipation? Healthline.com. https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/juice-for-constipation#modal-close. Reviewed on March 23, 2016. Accessed December 14, 2017.