We’ve probably all had constipation at least once in our lives and, chances are good that we hated every minute of it. When it comes to your own children, what can you do to help keep your little ones from getting constipated?
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Constipation in babies or very young children is a common problem but can be hard to spot, according to pediatric gastroenterologist Mohammad Nasser Kabbany, MD.
“About 1 in 20 pediatrician visits are about constipation,” says Dr. Kabbany. “It often starts when kids are away from home and afraid to use the bathroom.”
Here’s what to watch for:
- Babies and very young children may become red-faced when pushing or straining during a bowel movement.
- Little streaks in diapers or underwear. This a possible sign of stool not passing properly.
- Lack of appetite and stomachaches.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Excessive amounts of time on the potty.
But how do you prevent constipation in the first place? Dr. Kabbany shares some tips to help parents avoid it in their children:
Establish a bathroom routine
If your child is potty trained, help them establish a bathroom routine so they can use it regularly. By developing a routine, ideally one that goes along with a regular meal schedule, it’ll signal their bodies to head to the bathroom. Try to have meals at the same time every day so their little bodies will get that internal urge after they eat. Using a footstool during toilet time will also help them evacuate more effectively.
Drink water and don’t cut out milk
Water is crucial for our bodies to work properly and to get bowels moving along. Alongside eating a balanced diet, make sure your child also drinks plenty of water.
“Sometimes, kids resist drinking water,” says Dr. Kabbany. “Make it fun with a special cup and straw or by flavoring the water with lemon or even a cucumber slice. This can help them drink more of that H2O.”
Don’t cut out milk completely, either. Excessive dairy intake may be a problem, but cutting milk entirely from a child’s diet will not clear up constipation — and it will instead deprive your child of much-needed calcium.
Include fiber in their diet
Eating fiber is healthy, but how much fiber is good enough? To figure out how many grams of fiber your child should consume each day, add five to their age (in years). For example, your 2 year old would need 7 grams of fiber. Adults, on the other hand, need about 19 to 38 grams per day depending on age and gender.
“Eating fiber doesn’t have to be boring,” says Dr. Kabbany. “Offer fruits, vegetables and whole grains like prunes, apricots, plums, raisins, peas, beans and broccoli.”
Limit constipating foods
Keep an eye on your child’s intake of constipating foods. Bananas, rice and cheese are the big offenders because they can contribute to constipation in large quantities.
“This doesn’t mean getting rid of these foods completely,” says Dr. Kabbany. “Find out what is causing the issue. Then start decreasing the amount of that food your child eats. It’s all about moderation and eating a healthy diet.”
Get their bowels moving by encouraging movement and physical activity. Movement is good for kids because it not only creates good habits, releases pent up energy and prevents obesity, but it also helps kids’ bowels function. Instead of just telling them to go outside, do some kind of physical activity with them. Run around in the backyard, shoot some hoops together or go for a long walk around the neighborhood. Every little bit counts.
While this could be a frustrating process for both you and your child, know that there’s help available. Talk to your child’s pediatrician for support and other resources available so you, and your child, can take a sigh of relief.
“It’s important to treat constipation sooner than later,” says Dr. Kabbany. “If constipation goes on long enough, your child’s growth and development can even be affected.”