Constipation in toddlers and older children is common. Sometimes kids need medication for constipation but often natural ways and natural stool softeners help constipation in toddlers.
In this 10 minute video I explain what constipation is, why it occurs and what you can do about the most common cause of constipation in children.
If you prefer to read than watch videos, I've written down the main points.
Constipation is when we don’t go to the toilet to do a poo as often as we should do.
There’s no exact definition of constipation, but you want your child's poo to be soft and squishy, a bit like that soft fluffy ice cream – what we in the UK would call "Mr. Whippy Ice Cream".
You want the poo to be nice and soft and easy to pass.
You want your child to be going to the toilet at least once a day.
The vast majority of constipation in children is caused by not having enough fiber in your diet.
Fiber is found in fruit and vegetables. It’s the woody bit that we can’t digest and it goes straight through us. What we call a bulking agent. Fiber helps us to go to the toilet to do a poo regularly.
I often explain constipation by using the toothpaste analogy.
When you think about having a new tube of toothpaste and you give it a little squeeze and out pops the toothpaste. It’s really, really easy. That is your bowel when it is full of fiber.
Now think of a tube of toothpaste that is empty and it’s really hard and you’re trying to get that last little bit of toothpaste out. That is your bowel when it doesn’t have enough fiber. And this can lead to symptoms.
A painful experience going to the toilet can cause potty aversion or toilet aversion in children.
I think people really, really underestimate how painful constipation can be.
Your gut, your bowel is a really strong muscle and it’s trying really, really hard to push that poo out. You don’t have to be sitting on the toilet for this to be happening. But it can cause really nasty stomach cramps.
Constipation can paradoxically cause diarrhea or what we call "overflow diarrhea".
What happens is you have a big lump of poo that’s hard and solid and you can’t get it out. Behind that, you have watery stool that is not yet formed.
The big lump of poo doesn’t go anywhere and so the watery poop runs down the outside and it causes diarrhea.
Sometimes children present with diarrhea and they think that it’s diarrhea when really, the main cause is actually constipation.
The main symptoms are not going to the toilet, passing hard, and painful stool, having tummy pains, and for children, watery diarrhea – overflow diarrhea.
There are other causes – there are lots and lots of other causes of constipation in children.
The vast majority of constipation in children is due to not eating enough fruit and vegetables (where we find the fibre!) .
If you’re worried or if it’s ongoing, then of course go and get the problem checked out with your doctor.
If your child has had constipation from birth, you definitely need to be getting that checked out.
I would advise going to the doctor for any of the following:
If you're worried that your child is unwell, here are the signs of serious illness in kids.
Well, first of all, we need to get our children to be eating fruit and vegetables. Now, if you’re having troubles with this, I have lots of resources for you.
I have an entire video on how to help your toddler eat more vegetables. You want to be increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables because that’s where you’re getting the fiber, that woody stuff that our body doesn’t really digest and helps us pass things through.
If you're having problems getting your toddlers to eat fruit and vegetables, instead of bread and pasta, remember to sign up for the Feeding Toddlers Cheat Sheet and Food Diary.
One thing that I find super useful is dried fruit, because dried fruit is basically a double portion!
One handful of dried fruit is like 2 handfuls of fresh fruit. Things like dates and prunes and lots of other dried fruits have a natural laxative effect and that’s what helps us push things through.
Dried fruits are fantastic natural stool softners.
I also find hidden vegetables quite helpful for children who are picky eaters. If you have a child who is a picky eater, it's really difficult to get them to eat vegetables. Hidden vegetables can be super helpful as a short term measure.
I make a special chocolate brownie for when I think my children are getting a little bit constipated and I call it the "Constipation-Combating Brownie" and it’s got aubergines and a little bit of coconut oil and dates and my kids loves it. Not all of my kids love it. Some of my kids love it and it can really help to get them back on track.
For lots of (not hidden) vegetable meals your kids will love, check out Mandy from Sneaky Veg's 30 Delicious Vegetarian Family Meals.
Another fantastic thing you need to do when you are constipated is drink lots of water.
When you are constipated you have this big block of hard poo in your colon. Your colon is the bit before your rectum, before you poop things out. Your colon is really, really good at extracting water from poo.
If you’re feeling a little bit dehydrated, your colon is going to get to work and it’s going to start taking water out of your poop, and you’re going to end up with even harder poo.
So it’s really important when you’re constipated to be hydrated, to be well hydrated, so that you’re not making your poo even harder.
I would also recommend making sure that your children have a little bit of fat in their diet. It helps things be a little bit slippery and slide along. Most children don’t have problems eating fatty food products, but you can add a little bit of butter or coconut oil or olive oil to their food.
Calcium and magnesium are also good ways of preventing constipation and combating constipation. (Find out more about calcium, magnesium and constipation.)
Where do you find calcium and magnesium?
Well, calcium obviously in dairy products and make sure your child is eating enough dairy. And also in fruit and vegetables – magnesium in fruit and vegetables. So again, lots of fruit and vegetables.
How your child is sits on the toilet or potty.
What you want to be doing is squatting. Lots of people use what’s called a “squatty potty” which helps you lean forward a little bit and get an optimum position for going to the toilet, so a potty is fabulous.
If you’re on a toilet, just make sure your child has a step underneath their feet so that they aren’t dangling and pushing down and then they can lean forward a little bit.
If your child is struggling with constipation, I recommend going to the doctor to get some medication.
My favorite laxative in the UK is called Movicol. You take it in little sachets with water.
The reason I think it’s important to medicate constipation is it’s much better to jump on constipation early and prevent any problems later on like potty avoidance or going to the toilet avoidance.
It’s much better to jump on it and then work hard to prevent it reoccurring than to let it turn into a big problem.
Once you let constipation get into a big problem, it’s more and more difficult to set right and if you have chronic constipation, it can affect your gut and make your bowel floppy and not really have the muscle tone that it should have.
Constipation in toddlers is common and uncomfortable but normally you can resolve it in natural ways with natural stool softeners.
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