Article By: Dominica Dieffenbach, RDN
Dominica is a Registered Dietitian and mom of 2 kiddos currently specializing in the special needs pediatric population. She has over 15 years of experience as an RD, working with a wide variety of patients to provide them with individualized medical nutrition therapy and education.
Constipation in children is a common problem, but in many cases, it can be resolved with a few simple lifestyle changes. Signs and symptoms of constipation in kiddos may include:
- Less than three bowel movements a week
- Bowel movements that are hard, dry, and difficult to pass and may contain blood
- Pain while having a bowel movement
- Traces of liquid stool in your child's underwear — a sign that stool may be backed up in the rectum
Causes of constipation can be related to a variety of factors including stool withholding due to fear of pain or public bathrooms, potty training, low muscle tone associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy, or Trisomy 21, lack of adequate fiber or fluids in the diet, and being sedentary.
Below are 3 steps for help managing constipation:
1) Fill up with fiber.
Many kids are consuming a diet high in processed foods and low in fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and are thus not getting the necessary fiber to help prevent constipation. They are also missing out on key vitamins and minerals during this time of rapid growth and development due to a suboptimal diet.
There are two kinds of fiber — soluble and insoluble fiber. Even though our bodies cannot digest fiber, it can increase the bulk of stool making it able to move quicker through the bowels and soften stools by pulling in water. High fiber foods to consume daily include berries, apples, broccoli, beans, lentils, sweet potato, flaxseeds, and oats. For picky eaters, a fiber supplement can be used to help increase fiber intake. How much fiber do kids need? Take their age + 5 = total grams of fiber per day.
To cover nutritional gaps, consider including a quality multivitamin to their regimen such as the Renzo’s Picky Eater Multi.
2) Don't forget — water works wonders.
Making sure that children drink enough water every day is vital to many bodily functions, including constipation prevention. When the body does not get enough hydration, it takes water from the gut and can make stool become hard and dry, regardless of how much fiber gets consumed. Cow’s milk protein intolerance can also present itself as constipation, and many kiddos get relief from swapping to a non-dairy milk alternative such as almond milk or oat milk. If getting kids to drink plain water is challenging, try adding flavor through fresh fruit infusions, or a small splash of juice, or implementing a reward chart.
3) Practice timed toileting.
For some kids, painful bowel movements may have caused them to experience fear and anxiety related to toileting. To avoid more pain, children may refuse to sit on the toilet only worsening the situation. Creating a positive experience where a child sits on the toilet for 10-15 minutes following a meal (especially breakfast) can help to regulate stooling habits. Try placing a step stool under their feet for support and having them blow up balloons or a pinwheel which can aid their pushing effort. To keep them sitting for that amount of time, try reading them a book, or coloring on a white board, but never force the situation.
Constipation typically occurs intermittently for kids, but if it persists, might be necessary to seek help from a doctor to avoid complications from chronic constipation.
Renzo's Vitamins provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice.