Constipation in Children

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Constipation is a normal occurrence in adults and children in our present society. Eating less fiber, drinking less water and the introduction of processed and refined foods into our diet has added stress into our digestive systems. Constipation is usually easily remedied in a safe and natural way.

When children get constipated it is important to make sure we are diagnosing them properly. If they are only having bowel movements every 2-3 days but the stool is soft, this may be normal for them. Children are growing and developing and if they are eating a nutritious diet then they may be utilizing most of what is going into their bodies with little waste. If the stools are hard and dry and difficult to pass then this indicates constipation.

Sometimes children have a painful stool and associate that with pain. This may cause them to try to avoid it happening again and “hold it in”. This can lead to a vicious cycle of hard dry backed up stools which are often hard to pass and eventually a compacted bowel. It is important to observe the children’s action around the bowel movements and talk to them to see if this is the cause of the constipation.

It is also important to look at the child’s diet and determine if they are getting enough fiber in their diets. Read food labels and look up fiber content of what you are feeding your children. A good rule of thumb for daily intake is the number of years old the child is plus 6 grams. For example a 4 year old should have about 6g a day. Good sources of fiber include beans, apples, sweet potatoes, peas, greens, raw tomatoes, bran and popcorn.

Look at the amount of dairy in the child’s diet. Dairy can bind stool and leads to constipation. If the child is drinking a lot of cow’s milk, this may be contributing as well. Try switching to goat’s milk, soy, rice or almond. Other foods to decrease are bananas, cheese , low fiber vegetables (like cooked carrots), fruit juices, any refined breads, white rice, soda crackers and arrowroot cookies.

If a child is getting adequate fiber and still constipated, they may not be consuming enough water. The fiber will not move out of the system if the liquids are not moving it out. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation.

Sometimes our bowels are sluggish even with proper diet. If this is the case you may want to try magnesium supplements, slippery elm (mixed with water and lemon juice), aloe vera juice, peppermint tea, or bitters. Eating dried apricots and prunes or adding ground flaxseeds or pysllium husks to your diet will also encourage elimination. These are all safe, effective and gentle forms of easing the discomfort of constipation.

Taking a child’s probiotic every day (to enhance intestinal flora and aid digestion) and supplementing with essential fatty acids (lubricate the intestine and encourage peristalsis) are also beneficial suggestions for you to try.

Acupressure can be extremely effective as well. Try rubbing about an inch on either side of the belly button and applying gentle pressure to the area. You can also rub the whole stomach in a backward “C” motion to gently to promote movement.

If your child’s constipation is accompanied with vomiting, weight loss, poor weight gain, fever, swollen belly or poor appetite, I would suggest consulting a medical doctor to see if there is something more serious involved.