Constipation in children: causes, solutions, and dietary tips

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Gerta

Nutritionist
Discover the causes and solutions for constipation in children with our comprehensive guide. Learn how changes in routine, diet, and hydration levels can affect your child's digestive health. Get practical dietary tips, including high-fiber foods and hydration strategies, to prevent and relieve constipation in toddlers. Find out which foods to avoid and when to seek medical advice for serious cases.

What causes kids constipation?

The cause of kids constipation is similar to that of adults. A change in routine or a change in dietary habits can wreak havoc on your child’s delicate gastrointestinal system and lead to constipation.
Your child’s constipation symptoms may come on slowly, or you may notice sudden changes in their bowel habits. Either way, it’s important to know what caused constipation and to try your best to aim for prevention.
The following are some of the causes of kids constipation:

Changes in routine

Starting daycare or preschool, traveling, or moving to a different house are all big changes that can trigger constipation in your child. If your child is accustomed to using the same bathroom at certain points throughout the day, or have been toilet training in a certain bathroom and they suddenly find themselves in a new place, constipation may often ensue.

Low-fiber diet

Many of your typical toddler-friendly foods like crackers and puffs tend to be highly processed and low in fiber leading to a sluggish gastrointestinal system. If your child is experiencing constipation, doctors may recommend simply increasing their fiber, drinking fruit juice and adequate water intake may solve the problem. We’ll advise you on how to do that later.

Holding it in

If you’re in the throes of potty training, then you know all too well how challenging this can be for kids and parents alike. Learning to use the toilet may spark fear, embarrassment, and skepticism in your child.
Additionally, kids are notorious for wanting a sense of independence and control. Holding in their stool may be their way of taking charge of a situation that feels out of control for them.
During potty training, children should be encouraged to sit on the toilet and try to poop for 5 to 10 minutes at the same time of day, every day, after the same meal. This will encourage a routine that can ease your child’s mind and help prevent “holding it in”.

Illness or medications

Feeling under the weather can alter your child’s appetite and in turn, disrupt their gastrointestinal system leading to constipation. Furthermore, constipation may be a side effect of certain medications your child may be taking.

Hydration status

Fiber and water work hand-in-hand to contribute to your kids’s constipation relief. Not drinking enough water can slow their system down, triggering stools that are harder to pass.

Activity level

Plenty of physical activity can help prevent constipation in adults, and the same rings true for kids. Exercise can encourage bowel movements, so try to get your child to walk, ride a bike, or play catch every day.

What foods will help a toddler poop and prevent constipation?

The key to preventing constipation is to ensure your kids is eating plenty of fiber and drinking plenty of water. Fiber is the part of plant foods that you can’t digest. There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber absorbs water within your child’s GI system and forms a gel-like substance that keeps stools soft.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk and moisture to the stool making it easier to pass. Both types of fiber can be helpful in preventing constipation.
The following are practical ways to ensure your child is receiving adequate fiber and hydration:

Aim for 5 fruits and vegetables per day

Rather than count the number of fiber grams your child is eating, simply offer 5 age-appropriate fruits and vegetables to your child every day.
Some of the best high-fiber fruits include berries, plums, raisins, apricots, pears, and prunes. Some of the best high-fiber veggies include broccoli, sweet potato (with skin), and cooked peas. Note that it’s always best to choose fruits and vegetables in their whole form, versus juice, as the latter lacks fiber.

Swap out refined grains for whole grains

Since refined grains like white bread and white rice have very little fiber, try swapping them out for whole grains like whole-wheat bread and brown rice. Other whole grains to try include whole-wheat pasta, oats, quinoa, and fiber-rich cereals.

Add beans and legumes

Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and kidney beans are all good sources of fiber and can be easily added to different meals and snacks. For example, hummus can be spread on toast, or your child may want to try a delicious bean soup.

Provide enough water

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, to stay well hydrated and to help prevent constipation, children ages 1 to 3 years need approximately 4 cups of water every day. This amount increases for older kids to around 5 cups for 4 to 8-year-olds.
It’s important to note that the water amount recommendations will vary by individual and should be adjusted depending on your child’s activity levels. Additionally, if you live in a climate with higher heat and humidity, your child should drink more than the recommended amounts to ensure they are well-hydrated. A simple trick to teach your child is to examine the color of their urine to verify their hydration status. Urine should be a pale yellow color — dark yellow indicates dehydration, while clear can indicate overhydration.

Serious cases

In extreme cases children may need to use a laxative or stool softener such as Miralax. This should not be taken without a doctors recommendation or consent. These will help to soften the stools in order to pass through the anus without pain.

What foods should a constipated kid avoid?

If your toddler is experiencing constipation, it can help to limit or even eliminate certain foods that may be contributing to the problem. For example, some people find that dairy can make constipation worse, particularly for kids that have a dairy sensitivity.
Highly processed foods like fast food, hot dogs, and microwavable dinners are not only low in fiber, but are also high in sodium. Sodium can change the fluid balance in your child’s body, which can contribute to harder-to-pass stools.
You may consider limiting your child’s intake of foods that are full of refined grains while your child is constipated. Foods like white rice, white bread, and white pasta are low in fiber and may further slow your child’s digestion.
To help prevent or relieve constipation, your child should consider limiting or eliminating the following foods:

  • Fast food
  • Dairy
  • Highly processed snack foods like chips
  • Highly processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and sausage

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