When I first mentioned to our editor-in-chief that I was thinking about writing a post that addressed childhood constipation, she was far more excited than I was expecting. "Kids and poop?" she said, "Our readers will eat it up!" There was a moment of silence before we both burst out laughing. As parents, we may find ourselves handling poop more often than the average person, but hopefully not eating it.
That said, constipation in children is, unfortunately, a very common problem. When a child is not having a bowel movement often enough, it is often hard and dry, which can cause them to strain and experience pain. The anticipation of this can further aggravate the situation as children tend to "hold it in" in an attempt to avoid the pain. Your child may start to experience bloating, smelly gas and complain of tummy aches. Constipation can cause a great deal of anxiety for a child and is a stressful experience for both the child and the parents. It is also a contributing factor for picky eaters. When a child is constipated they can feel bloated and uncomfortable leaving them feeling like there is no room to eat more food. If left untreated, long-term constipation can lead to more serious health concerns, so it is best dealt with as soon as possible.
Here are a few tips to help get things moving:
1. WATER: Staying hydrated is very important for digestion and is the first thing to address when dealing with constipation. There is only so much fluid a child is going to drink in a day, so often water ends up being replaced by beverages such as juice or milk. If your child does not drink enough water, try reducing or diluting other beverages to increase their water intake.
2. FIBRE: If your child's diet does not contain enough fibre, this could be contributing to the problem. Simply loading up on fibre, however, is not always the answer. Increasing intake of fibre without a sufficient intake of water can further aggravate the situation. Everyday foods that contain fibre include fruits and vegetables, whole grain, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes.
3. PROBIOTICS: Beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotics can help tremendously for children with digestive issues. There are many differences between the strains of probiotics on the market so choosing the most effective probiotic for your child's individual situation is important. Fermented foods are also a great way to increase your child’s good bacteria.
4. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS: Omega 3 fats in the form of fish oil or flaxseed oil can help by lubricating the stool. Including these healthy fats on a daily basis can get things moving more easily. They can be given right off the spoon, or added into smoothies or a bit of applesauce, but they should not be heated.
5. POSSIBLE FOOD SENSITIVITIES: If you have tried many of these suggestions and your child is still having difficulties, you may want to explore the possibility of food sensitivities. Common foods such dairy or wheat can cause constipation in sensitive individuals, but not always the case. A supervised elimination diet can often help get to the bottom of it.
Constipation, whether it occurs in children or adults, can be a complicated issue. Almost always there will be nutritional factors involved, but emotions and stress need to be considered as well. Additional factors such as low muscle tone can also play a role. Each one of us has a unique situation so there is not one solution that will resolve the issue for everyone. If after your best efforts, the constipation does not improve, please consult with a healthcare practitioner.
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