Pooping trouble is something I hear of often. Constipated little bellies can be upsetting, uncomfortable, and make the little people particularly bad tempered and irritable.
Some kids struggle with constipation regularly. Others have trouble when travelling, when things are changing in the home or at school, and when on antibiotics or other medications.
It is important to be mindful that every child is different and that their digestive and bowel functions will all vary. Although it is generally considered “normal” for a child to move their bowels anywhere from three times a day to once every second day, a general healthy bowel movement rule of thumb is to aim for once every day.
Firstly, it is important to avoid setting our kids up for tummy trouble. By identifying causes and potential triggers, we can steer clear of the whole uncomfortable episode all together!
Common Causes of Constipation in Children
Holding It: Justifiably, some kids tend to hold their bowels when they are uncomfortable, stressed, or just not near a toilet. As adults, we have years of experience with “having to go” in situations that are not ideal and we’ve learned to adjust. For little people, it’s all very new.
Changes in Routine: Most children thrive on a regular routine when it comes to activity, nap times, meal times, and bedtime. This reigns true for bowel movements as well. Little bowels are very sensitive and when life falls out of synch, their bowels may be affected and retain a movement or two as a result.
Too Much Gluten, Dairy, Sugar, or Processed Foods: Certain foods do not move well through the digestive tract and although not everyone has trouble with these foods, they are common causes for constipation.
Medication: Certain antidepressants, antibiotics, over-the-counter cough and cold medication, and pain relievers can contribute to constipation and bowel interruptions.
Family History: Children with family members that struggle with constipation may be more prone to suffer constipation issues.
How To Encourage Regular Bowel Function in Children:
Ensure Adequate Water Intake: Numero Uno! Our bowels need water to help pass stool comfortably. If there is not enough water ingested, the large intestine soaks up water from food waste making harder, difficult to pass stools. Kids are often not consuming enough water throughout the day. Always send your child with a water bottle, encourage them to drink water between activity and between meals. Although some parents feel it is easier to get their child to drink watered down juice, straight water is truly best! Some tips: flavour water with citrus fruits, cucumber, mint, watermelon, or other chopped fruit, and try herbal teas, hot or cold.
Encourage a High-Fibre Diet: Fibre comes from plant foods: fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Both soluble and insoluble fibres are imperative for digestive health and disease prevention although they differ in function. Soluble fibre attracts water, turning into gel during digestion, slowing digestion and allowing for proper nutrient extraction. Sources include: legumes, barley, oat bran, chia seeds, most fruits and vegetables . Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool, helping it to pass with ease through the stomach and the small intestines. Sources include: whole grains, nuts, flaxseeds, the skin of most fruits and vegetables. Encourage kids to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, as a constant staple in their diets.
Reduce Gluten, Dairy, Sugar, and Processed Foods: Although I encourage clients to keep these foods to a minimum as part of a wellness maintenance protocol, reducing these foods during times of particular constipation trouble can be very useful.
Keep Them Active: Exercise encourages proper fluid balance, metabolic function, and blood distribution, regular exercise in children not only promotes a healthy elimination system, but prevents disease, diabetes, and excess weight gain. It also keeps them happy.
Don’t Make It a Big Deal: Kids can develop anxiety around moving their bowels and the last thing they need is for someone to make a big and embarrassing deal about it. Encourage kids to take the time needed, give them a book to look at, a stool for their feet, and set a good example when it comes to toilet time. Help reassure them around using public facilities when their body tells them it’s time to go and explain that it is unnecessary and hard on the body to hold it in. Useful tool: Potty books can be very helpful in explaining bowel function, illustrating proper use of the toilet, and easing stress and frustration around bowel movements. Here’s a list of some goodies: http://www.popsugar.com/moms/Best-Children-Books-Potty-Training-20768518#photo-20768518
If you haven’t successfully avoided a backed up situation, relax, there are many ways to get those poops out without subjecting your kid to icky chemicals or drastic measures (ouch!).
Probiotics: Find a daily probiotic for kids containing lactobacillus and bifidobacterium for best results. Also aim to include probiotic rich fermented foods in the diet, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, water/coconut milk kefir, and kombucha.
Coconut Oil: High in medium chain fatty, coconut oil provides quick energy for intestinal cells, boosting their metabolism and stimulating bowel movements while softening the stool at the same time. For children try 1 tsp in the morning and 1 tsp in the evening, increasing to 2 tsps if needed. Increase dosages slowly, as too much coconut oil can cause overly loose stools and diarrhea. If the child won’t take it straight up, try mixing with a little juice and water or cacao powder and hot water.
Magnesium Citrate: An osmotic laxative, magnesium citrate pulls water into the intestines and is safe in moderation for even young children. It is best taken before bed in a liquid or powder form mixed with water or almond milk (doses: 1-3yrs – 65mg/day, 4-8yrs – 110mg/day, 9-18yrs – 350mg/day).
Slippery Elm: Fibrous and mucilaginous in nature, slippery elm provides bulk and moisture to aid in proper elimination, helps increase proper formation of mucus, and reduce excess stomach acid, making it incredibly helpful in all gastro-intestinal ailments. Look for it in powdered form at your local health food store and mix 1 tsp with warm water and a little maple syrup for sweetener. For more information on slippery elm: http://www.mommyser.com/myblog/spotlight-slippery-elm-bark
Fennel and Licorice Tea: Both laxative in nature and safe for little tummies, these herbal teas can provide relief of digestive discomforts and boost overall gastro-intestinal health. Separate or together, brew some herbal tea, sweeten if needed, and serve cold or hot. A nice after dinner wind-down.
To get things moving in a hurry, serve up this smoothie goodness:
The Poopie Smoothie
1 Tbsp cacao powder
1-2 tsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp water/coconut milk kefir
2 cups frozen berries
1 Tbsp ground flax/chia seeds
1 cup almond milk/coconut milk
1 tsp maple syrup (optional)
Blend all ingredients until smooth and serve.
Remember that we carry much of our emotional upsets in our guts, so when it comes to chronic constipation in children, it is important to address any potential underlying causes, be it dietary, lifestyle, or emotional.
Here’s to regularity!