Constipation is a really common kid's health complaint.
My little boy sat on the toilet, his feet dangling down. He could hardly reach the step. He's always so cute when he sits there, his big blue eyes looking up at me, asking me to close the door for some privacy. Except this time, I could hear him crying in pain. He sat there sobbing. I had that surge of adrenaline and panic when something threatens our child. "It hurts mummy!" he cried. And I knew. I knew that constipation was the problem.
Constipation is when children have hard poos so it is difficult to go to the toilet. The most common cause of constipation is dietary, not eating enough fibre. Half of what you eat should be fruit and vegetables (they contain lots of fibre) but most people don’t eat that much. Many people don’t realise that they don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. Constipation can be very painful but it can often be avoided by eating lots of fruit and vegetables.
Constipation in Children Symptoms
- Tummy pain
- Hard poos
- Problems doing a poo
- Watery poo or diarrhoea
Constipation in children can be very painful. The powerful muscles in your gut try hard to push the hard poo out. It can cause cramping tummy pains.
Poo should be soft and easy to pass. When it gets hard it’s difficult to pass. When it builds up watery, unformed poo can form behind it. The watery poo can pass down beside the hard poo that can’t get out. Sometimes it appears as if children have diarrhoea rather than constipation. In reality constipation is the problem and the hard poo needs to come out.
Causes of Constipation in Children.
- Lack of fibre in diet
- Bad toilet experience
- Other diseases (there are many, but they are much less common)
There are many factors that contribute to having constipation: not drinking enough water, not doing enough exercise. Sometimes children get a small cut in their anus (where the poo comes out) which makes it painful to poo, or sometimes they have a bad experience which leads them to 'hang onto their poos' which can lead to constipation. There are also diseases that cause constipation.
The most common cause by far is not eating enough fibre (i.e. fruit and vegetables). Fibre is the bit of food that our bodies cannot digest. It sits in the bowel, bulking out the poo and making it easier for the poo to pass through the body. When I'm explaining constipation to children, I use an analogy of a tube of toothpaste. When a tube of toothpaste is full, you press it a little and toothpaste comes out easily (a bowel full of fibre). When the tube is empty, you have to squeeze really hard to get just a little bit out. That is a bowel without any fibre.
Treating Constipation in Children.
- Eat lots of fibre (vegetables, fruit and whole grains)
- Drink water
- Toilet position
The first thing to think about is vegetables. Many people think that their children eat enough vegetables. But chances are, if they are a little over weight or have constipation, that they don't. I ask children what their favourite vegetable is and if they answer 'chips' (which they frequently do) I begin to suspect that they don't eat enough of the green ones! (That is generally where the fibre is).
Drinking water also helps prevent constipation. When you are a little dehydrated your body will reabsorb water from your colon (the bit where your poo sits waiting to come out). This will make the poo harder and more difficult to pass.
Regular exercise helps to prevent constipation whereas a sedentary life style is more likely to make you constipated. Being active is good for children.
If your child is having lots of tummy pain, it may well be time to talk to your doctor about using medication to get rid of the constipation. Medication can be useful in getting rid of the blocked up poo but you will need to make changes to your child’s diet and life style to prevent the constipation from coming back
￼Encourage your child to do a poo by putting them on the toilet after eating. (You have a reflex that means you want to poo after you have eaten.) They should sit with a straight back rather than leaning over. If their feet don’t reach the floor, use a step.
Avoiding Constipation in Children
If constipation is caused by lack of fibre (which is the most likely cause) then eating enough fibre will stop your child from getting constipated. Since that day when my son sat on the toilet crying, I have worked really hard to make sure my children eat enough fruit and vegetables. Most children don't naturally like vegetables and it can take time and ALOT of patience to help them.
But stick around a while, check out the site for lots of recipes and great tips to help your kids eat a healthy diet.