Updated: Nov 13, 2019
It can be heartbreaking to watch your kids suffer from constipation. Read below for some tips.
After three different people asked me about natural ways to relieve their kids’ constipation, I thought I write about it. It can be frustrating and heartbreaking when your baby, toddler, or even, school-aged child is suffering from constipation. Incorporating a little extra fiber might help. (These dietary changes could be considered home remedies and you should always consult a medical doctor. )
What Exactly is Considered Constipation in Children?
It is a condition in which your child may have:
· hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass
· having fewer than two bowel movements per week
Additional Symptoms of Constipation in Kids May Include:
· having a swollen abdomen, or bloating
· abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, or poor appetite
· having daytime or nighttime wetting
· soiling (stool in his/her underwear that looks like diarrhea)
· shifting positions that make it look like your child is trying to have a bowel movement, but he/she is really trying to avoid/delay it
What Causes Constipation in Kids?
Just like adults, children’s bowel patterns differ from child to child. Most children have bowel movements 1 or 2 times a day, but others may go 3 days without having normal stools. Going 3 days or more without having a bowel movement is OK, as long as your child is healthy with normal stools that are passed without pain or discomfort.
Constipation is a common problem in kids, the most common causes being:
· a low fiber diet
· in infants, transitioning to solid foods
· withholding – delaying or avoiding a bowel movement because he/she is afraid of the pain that comes with passing stool, a yearning for independence or control, too busy playing or waiting for a more comfortable place to use the bathroom (like waiting to get home to use the bathroom instead of at school).
· Illness and/or medications (especially iron supplements)
· Changes in environment or routine (moving, starting a new school or activity)
When You Should See a Doctor
If the symptoms last more than 2 weeks or do not go away with treatment with natural remedies at home.
You should take your child to the doctor right away if your child experiences any of the following:
· bloating that doesn’t resolve
· bleeding from his/her rectum
· weight loss
What Should My Child Eat if He/She is Constipated?
Fiber – A good rule of thumb is 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. (Fibers from different foods will also help stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in her gut microbiome, which you can read more about here.)
These are the recommendations of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Your child’s needs may differ:
The Nutrition Facts label on a food product can tell you how much fiber per serving food has.
· Excellent sources of fiber have 5 grams or more per serving
· Good sources of fiber have 3 grams or more per serving
Good sources of fiber are:
Fruits and Veggies (with their skin!)
Whole fruits with their skin have about 3 grams of fiber (Pears have 4.5, peaches have 2). A cup of raspberries has 8 grams! Dark colored vegetables. Kale, swiss chard, broccoli and cauliflower are great. Consider making kale chips in the oven for a yummy snack. Dried fruits: raisins, prunes (a powerful, natural laxative), dates, figs, apricots. (Avoid candied fruits.)
Canned is OK, just rinse them well to remove the salt solution. Kidney, chickpeas, black beans, cannellini, lentils, split peas. (1/2 cup kidney beans have 7.4 g fiber and navy beans have 3!) Add them to soups and whole-grain pasta. Make a dip or spread. Make them the centerpiece of taco night, or just serve them plain. (My kids love to eat plain small, white beans. I put them in a small espresso cup with a small spoon and they love it.)
You can also integrate them into energy balls; the beans moisten the recipe without adding extra sugar and they add fiber. I make a batch of these energy balls each week and throw them into the kids' lunch boxes - or mine :)
Nuts and Seeds
If your child does not have a nut allergy, then add them as snacks (make a trail mix by mixing with dried fruits), top oatmeal and yogurt with them or grind them to use in baking. Don’t forget chia seeds and flax seeds, which can both act as laxatives. For kids, add a tiny bit (1/2 – 1 tsp) to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies.
Whole grain breads, hot oatmeal, bran, buckwheat, barley, bulgur, whole rye, whole wheat pasta. Cold cereals: Post Wheat ‘N’ Bran Spoon Size, Market Pantry (Target) frosted mini wheats, Grape Nuts, All Bran and Kellog’s frosted mini wheats, original are some of the best tasting (but not toooo much sugar), high-fiber cereals.
So important! You should not bulk up your child’s diet without adding extra fluid. Clogging up his or her plumbing with too much stool bulk could lead to impaction, so ensure that your child is getting enough fluid from non-dairy drinks and fruits.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that, roughly, most children aged:
· 1 to 3 need at least 35 ounces of fluid per day
· 4 to 8 years old need at least 46 ounces per day
· 9 to 13 year old boys need at least 65 oz per day
· 9 to 13 year old girls need at least 57 oz per day
If your child is a big milk drinker (like mine), try to limit liquid milk to ~ 2-3 cups per day.
So tell me about your experience and what has worked for you!
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020 (PDF, 10.3 MB) . 8th ed. Published December 2015. Accessed November 29, 2018.
https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/many-glasses-milk-should-kid-drink-1100.html. Accessed November 29, 2018.
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Kids-Need-Fiber-Heres-Why-and-How.aspx. Accessed November 29, 2018.