Poo. A bit of a taboo subject that most of us tend to shy away from, but as a nutritionist, it is something I talk about all day long. Why? Because our bowel motions (or lack of) are such a good indicator of what's going on inside of the body.
Bowel patterns can vary in children just like they can in adults, and while every now and again things might happen a bit more frequently or less frequently than normal, but we ideally want things to be as consistent as possible. It’s also important to point out that when a baby starts solids or switching from breast feeding to formula feeding, it’s normal to have some stool changes and either increase or decrease in frequency.
When we are thinking about constipation we are thinking about stools that are hard, dry and difficult or painful to pass. These stools can occur daily or may be less frequent. In addition to the physical difficulty of passing a bowel motion, other signs your child may be constipated include poor appetite, cranky behaviour, abdominal pain, flatulence and soiling. Constipation is very common in children and can be due to several dietary, lifestyle and environmental factors.
Just like it is for adults, constipation is unpleasant for children. Not only is constipation bad for their physical health but it can also be incredibly mentally and emotionally distressing. Avoiding dealing with issues surrounding the bathroom when children are young can lead to problems into later life, so it is important to openly communicate with your children about their bathroom habits so that you can identify where there may be an issue and try to resolve it as quickly as possible.
Here are my tips for avoiding constipation and what you focus on for relief if it does occur.
For healthy, moving bowels children need to consuming plenty of plant-based, fibre rich foods on a daily basis. Making sure your children are eating plenty of vegetables (with the skin on), fruit, legumes and whole grains every day is a great place to start. If you are struggling to get fruit and vegetables into your child you may have to get creative and start sneaking them in. Think zucchini in homemade banana bread, grated carrot in spaghetti bolognese, lentil patties etc. If your child isn't used to a high-fibre diet, start slowly and gradually increase the fibre content of their meals to prevent any digestive discomfort.
Water usually isn’t a child’s favourite drink but it is certainly important. I recommend parents get their child their own special sippy cup or stainless steel water bottle and remember to encourage them to drink throughout the day. It is also important for parents to be aware of how much milk their child is drinking, consuming large amounts of cows milk can make them more constipated, as well as filling them up and making them less likely to eat all of their meals, which usually means a lower fibre intake.
Set aside time after meals for your child to use the toilet. Encourage them to sit there for a few minutes and relax, waiting to see if they have the urge to go. I recommend getting a footstool so that your child is comfortable sitting on the toilet and is in the correct position to be able to easily pass a stool. Reinforce the good behaviours with encouragement and age-appropriate rewards or games. Make sure you praise your child for sitting on the toilet, even if they don’t do a poo.
Children can get so involved in activities, games or playing with their friends that they can often ignore natures call. If this continuously happens, it can contribute to constipation. If you suspect your child may be holding on, encourage them to go to the bathroom and reassure them that they can continue with what they are doing afterwards. It is also worth mentioning any issues your child may be having with constipation to their school, so teachers are aware and don’t ask them to ‘hold on’ till playtime.
Like adults, small changes in routine can affect a child’s digestive system. Consider any stresses your child may be feeling such as a new house, new school, parents changing work schedules, holidays or a new sibling. These are just some of the factors that may cause changes in bowel habits.
Physical exercise and activity are really helpful at getting things moving as it stimulates bowel function. If your children tend to be more sedentary (which many are these days with the likes of TV, iPads and phones) encourage them to get moving. Walk home from school, go to the park after nursery or encourage games in the garden at home. For babies, I’ve found tummy time, baby massage and bicycle legs can really help.
Prunes, Pears, Plums and Peaches.
If your child has been constipated for some time, they may need a little help in hand to get things moving again. If this is the case, I recommend parents start with some prune juice. It’s important not to do anything too stimulating, so I recommend starting very gradually with a splash (around 30 mls) three times per day. You can also implement from prunes, stewed pears, plums or peaches into their diet as age appropriate. Monitor and see how your child responds. If you have tried that and also implemented the above steps with no success, make sure you reach out to a health practitioner who can provide more individualised support.
Chia Seeds and Flaxseeds.
Adding chia and flaxseeds into your child’s diet is a great way to boost both fibre intake as they contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. When chia and flaxseeds come into contact with water they forms a gel. In the gut this can help to bulk and soften stools which make them easier to pass. You could try making chia puddings, adding some chia or flaxseeds to yoghurt or smoothies, or making seeded savoury crackers.
Certain medications and supplements (iron and calcium) can be constipating, with the exception of iron bisglycinate which doesn't contribute to constipation like other forms do. We recommend discussing this with your health care practitioner, if you suspect a medication or supplements may be contributing to constipation.
The information contained in this article is for informational and educational purposes only.
We cannot guarantee that any information found in this article, will work as advertised, nor that they will give you the desired results. Individual results may vary.
None of the information contained in this article is intended to diagnose, treat, alleviate or relieve any medical or health conditions nor serve as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional.
You should always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before adopting any treatment for a health problem or undertaking any new dietary regime. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, or you should contact your health care provider.
Written By Brittany Darling
NUTRITIONIST (BHSC), WESTERN HERBAL MEDICINE (ADV DIP),
CERT. PAEDIATRIC NUTRITION