“My stomach hurts,” is a common phrase many parents have heard from their children. A child who has less than three bowel movements per week, has hard and dry stool, or simply has trouble with his bowel movements may be constipated. While it is normal for a child to have a bowel movement only every few days, it is not normal for stool to be anything other than soft and easy to pass through the bowels. If your child is constipated, you may need to make some changes to his diet in order to encourage his bowels to work properly again. My common rule is to make sure your child is getting enough fiber and fluid, and watch the “white” foods.
Increase Fluid Intake
Increasing your child’s water intake will help to keep her hydrated so that her stools do not become hard and difficult to pass. If your child is an infant, increase her fluid intake by making sure she gets at least 2 to 4 ounces of water or diluted fruit juice at least once or twice every day.
Vegetables that are high in fiber are effective for alleviating constipation as well. Vegetables with moderately high fiber levels include broccoli, carrots, corn, green beans, peas and spinach. Beets, acorn squash, butternut squash and avocado are high in fiber as well. Try adding these foods as an afternoon snack or as side dishes during lunch or dinner.
Foods containing bran, another high-fiber nutrient, can also help to alleviate constipation. These include cereals such as Bran Flakes, Frosted Mini Wheats, granola and oatmeal. Cereals considered to be even higher in fiber include All Bran, Fiber One and 100% Bran. These foods are great for breakfast and can be easily introduced to the diet alone or with fruits.
Fruits are naturally high in fiber and are essential to a healthy diet. Fruits with moderately high fiber content include apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, mangoes, raisins and nectarines. If you add raisins or berries to your child’s bran cereal or oatmeal, you’ll be enhancing the flavor of the food while increasing his fiber intake even more.
Children who eat a lot of foods that are high in fat and low in fiber, such as meats, can quickly become constipated.
Why Do Kids Get Constipated?
Constipation is pretty common and different things can cause it. Reasons why kids get constipated include:
- Unhealthy diet. If you fill your diet with fatty, sugary, or starchy foods and don’t eat enough fiber, your bowels may slow down. Fiber — found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — can keep your poop from getting hard and dry. So reach for an apple!
- Not enough exercise. Moving around helps food move through your digestive system. If you don’t get enough active playtime — like running around outside — you could get constipated.
- Not enough fluid. Drinking water and other liquids keeps poop soft as it moves through your intestines. When you don’t drink enough, the poop can get hard and dry and you might get stopped up.
- Not going to the bathroom when you need to. Sometimes kids don’t go to the bathroom when they have to. But if you make a habit of ignoring your body’s signals that it’s time to go, that might make it harder to go later on.
- Stress. Kids might get constipated when they’re anxious about school or something at home. This can happen during scary events, like starting at a new school, or even if you’re just worried about a lot of homework and tests coming up. Being away from home for more than a few days may make you feel a little stressed, too.
- Irritable bowel syndrome. Some kids have a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It can act up when they’re stressed or when they run into certain triggers, like fatty or spicy foods. A kid who has IBS may have constipation sometimes and diarrhea sometimes, as well as belly pain and gas.
My last tip? I always recommend your child’s teacher be informed of the problem. While you are trying to treat your child’s constipation, he or she may need fairly quick access to a toilet. Delaying will only add to the problems, so make sure the teacher allows your child to excuse him or herself quickly from a classroom or activity.