Mac ‘n’ cheese, string cheese, pizza with extra cheese, cheeseburgers — yes, your kid likely loves them all. But is all of that cheese in your child’s diet too much of a good thing? And can all of that cheese cause constipation?
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“When parents bring their child to see me because of constipation, we definitely talk about diet. However, diet is not the only factor,” says pediatric gastroenterologist Jacob Kurowski, MD.
Can cheese cause constipation?
A constipation diagnosis typically means your child has hard bowel movements that are difficult to pass and, sometimes, they may also cause pain. Some children will have fewer than three bowel movements a week, while others will have smaller bowel movements frequently throughout the day.
Eating too much cheese, bananas, rice or milk can contribute to the problem, Dr. Kurowski says. So can a diet that’s low in fiber, water and other fluids.
“I don’t have a major problem with children eating cheese in particular. It’s the culmination of the diet,” he says.
Other factors that also may play a role in causing constipation include stress, your child’s age and other behaviors.
“Children often become constipated because they hold in their bowel movements,” Dr. Kurowski explains.
They may do this for a variety of reasons, including:
- Embarrassment about using a public bathroom.
- Reluctance to stop playing to make a pit stop.
- Physical difficulties using a toilet.
The size, sounds and location of a toilet are sometimes overwhelming for young children, he says.
How can you ease your child’s constipation?
Make sure your child eats healthy, well-balanced meals. This is good for your child’s overall well-being in and out of the bathroom.
To do this:
- Reduce possible offenders. When Dr. Kurowski works with people to address constipation, he starts by evaluating a child’s diet, asking what types of food and how much the child typically eats. Then, he may suggest adjustments. For instance, if your child is eating more than 12 ounces of cheese daily, he might recommend reducing that to 4 or 5 ounces and limiting other milk products.
“I often put in parameters. I very rarely tell parents to stop feeding kids something, including cheese. I preach moderation,” he says. “I have cheese sticks in my house for my children, and they drink milk.”
- Increase foods that can combat constipation. Dr. Kurowski recommends working in more foods that can help reduce the problem. He often suggests adding fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits (especially apples with skins on), whole grains, legumes and beans.
- Consider stool softener in certain cases. Depending on how severe the constipation is, Dr. Kurowski might recommend a temporary over-the-counter stool softener to get your child’s bowels moving.
- Access support as needed. For children 3- to 8-years-old, he may refer them to a program that helps children feel more comfortable in the bathroom. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider to see if they might offer a similar solution.
- Rule out other possible culprits. Have your child’s healthcare provider review their medications and check for any health problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This way, you’ll know if it’s more than their diet.
Find foods and a routine that work
Dr. Kurowski says the goal is to find a diet that works for your child and to modify any behaviors or obstacles that might cause problems in the bathroom. Typically, he recommends stool softeners at the beginning of treatment with the goal of weaning kids off of them when their bathroom moves are much smoother.
If you change up your child’s diet, but they’re still struggling with constipation, ask their healthcare provider for help. Your child might be more willing to open up about pooping and other sensitive subjects with another adult who they trust.
Make the toilet more comfortable for your child
And make the toilet kid-friendlier if you haven’t already. It can be a little scary when they have to poop so high up from the ground. Dr. Kurowski offers this advice:
“If their feet don’t touch the ground when they sit on the toilet, they might need a stepping stool. Toilets are for adults and not for kids.”
The ultimate goal is to make diet and/or behavior modifications so your child can be an effective pooper.