A hot topic of conversation in the pediatric nutrition world, constipation in kids continues to be a worry for parents. While most would think, “Poop should just happen naturally!” in some kiddos, this is not the case.
Constipation, a delay or difficulty in stooling that often causes straining and pain, is actually a common issue in kids. Some reasons why your child may be constipated; family history, diet, emotional stress, and inconsistent toileting habits. Constipation means that stools are moving too slowly through the bowel, allowing fluid to be absorbed into the body. This causes hard stools which are difficult and painful to pass. A child may withhold stooling due to fear of pain, which over time can stretch the rectum making it impossible to get the urge to stool.
How can constipation in kids be treated?
The first step in treating constipation is to clean out the rectum and intestine. This is a critical step as it is best to begin a constipation regimen with empty bowels. You can accomplish clean-out in many ways. It is best to use a health care team to guide this process. It generally consists of a series of enemas, laxatives, and stool softeners and is not always fun for the child, but very necessary.
Once the bowels are clean, maintenance can begin. This will consist of a combination of medicines, behavior training, and diet.
Guided by the health care team general are used to keep the stools soft and slippery so that they are easy to pass out.
Consistency is key! Take your child to the bathroom 20-30 minutes after a meal and allow them to sit 1 minute per year of life up to 10 minutes; feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Sometimes a stool or small chair can help keep the feet flat. Train your child to push by ‘finding the right muscles” by blowing up a ball or playing a kazoo. Offer a lot of praise whether or not they pass stool!
I often tell patients that fiber is the magic ingredient in foods and can become their best friend. Naturally occurring in grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, fiber increases the amount of water held in the stool making soft, bulky stools that are easier to pass.
There are two basic types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps to keep bowel movements normal by increasing bulk. In addition, this type of fiber shows to decrease the risk of some cancers and high cholesterol.
Examples of Insoluble Fiber: Veggies such as green beans, root veggies, and dark leafy greens; fruits with skins, and whole wheat, seeds, and nuts.
Soluble fiber does dissolve in water and works to slow the passing of food through the body so that sugar is released and absorbed more slowly. Eating 5-10gm of soluble fiber per day has also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol by 5%.
Examples of soluble fiber: dried beans and peas, peanuts, lentils, potatoes, carrots, berries, broccoli, oats, flaxseed, grains (barley, oat, rye), and apples.
It is best to add fiber into the diet slowly and using mild changes, such as:
- Use whole grain bread instead of white bread
- Add wheat bran to muffins, oatmeal, or meatloaf
- Leave the skin on the fruit
- Try whole-grain cereals
- Add beans to soups and stews or mash on crackers for a snack
- Try fresh or dried fruit, nuts, or raw veggies- these make great snacks!
- Read the nutrition label and aim for 3gm of dietary fiber or more
Remember to eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water as fiber works best with enough hydration. A registered dietitian can tell you how much fiber and fluids your child needs.
Follow our feeding kids page on Instagram for more tips & resources!
Getting additional help for constipation in kids
Constipation in kids is common, and can affect appetite, growth, and cause pain and discomfort. It requires patience and consistency to treat but is worth the effort. If your child is experiencing trouble with constipation, our pediatric dietitians can help. They will work with your family to find the best treatment plan for your child and set you on the path of wellness!
Some of our pages contain affiliate links that Anderson’s Nutrition may receive a commission from, at no extra cost to you. We only promote products that we have used & verified, finding helpful for our clients and friends. As an Amazon Associate, we may earn from qualifying purchases. Anderson’s Nutrition is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.