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Constipation 101: Let’s Talk Poop!

I had always planned to do a series on poop, doo-doo, poo (or whatever you prefer to call it). The Doo-Doo Diaries has a certain ring to it, no? In my many years of practice, the topic of poop comes up frequently…and not only for the young ones. I have seen plenty of school-age and teenage kids deal with this–pain in the butt.

All joking aside, some kids are more prone to constipation than others. Diet always plays a role in preventing constipation, and solving it. This week, pediatric dietitian Maria-Paula Carrillo shares her advice.
constipation

Most adults know what constipation feels like.  We know that it can make you feel bloated, uncomfortable, and even painful.  What does constipation look like?  Well, let’s talk poop.  If your child’s bowel movement is not soft and smooth, then most likely there’s some constipation.  If you see small balls or they are straining when going, they are definitely constipated!

Constipation usually occurs because your child may eat a low fiber diet, not get enough fluids and/or have a low activity level.  This may lead to them having a painful experience when trying to have a bowel movement.  Some children react to this with fear which leads them to “holding it in;” this causes even more constipation.

Preventing and Relieving Constipation

There are several things you can do to help prevent constipation or even relieve it.  Explaining to your child in an age-appropriate way is helpful, it allows them to understand why you want him or her to do or eat certain things.  Here are the main pointers:

–       Help your child get the recommended amount of fiber they need in a day (see chart below)

–       Do not increase fiber intake too rapidly

–       Ensure that water intake (or just fluid intake in general) increases as well

–       Limit milk to 16 oz day (this includes other dairy products)

–       Choose whole grains (whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, corn, whole grain cereals, etc.)

–       Make sure all meals contain at least one fruit or vegetable

–       Keep your child active

There are many foods that are high in fiber, for example most fruits and vegetables, but specifically broccoli, spinach, potatoes, peaches, apples, pears, oranges, all types of berries, beans, whole grains, bran, even some dried fruits like prunes and figs.

The fiber recommendations for children are as follows:

Age

Total Fiber

1 to 3 years old

19 gm/day

4 to 8 years old

25 gm/day

9 to 13 years old

26 gm/day females/31 gm/day males

14 to 18 years old

26 gm/day females/38 gm/day males

Now, let’s remember that most Americans (this includes children), do not get the recommended amount of fiber they are supposed to.  Going from a low fiber intake to their desired goal too fast, can cause symptoms that you do not want your child to have.  These include bloating, gassiness, and abdominal pain amongst others. 

The best way to introduce more fiber to your child’s diet is to do so by adding some of those fiber-containing foods slowly.  For example, for a few days give a serving of fruit with lunch, after a few days you can change their morning cereal to a high fiber one (at least 3 gm fiber/serving) and so on until you are at goal.

Here is a one day sample menu that includes several fiber-rich foods.  Adjusting the portions to the age of your child will give you the right amount of fiber needed.  Do not forget the water intake, it is as important in relieving or preventing constipation as fiber is.

BreakfastLow fat Greek yogurt, Berries (any kind), All Bran cereal (or any other high-fiber cereal), Sliced almondsWater
am snackBean dip, Corn chips, Water
LunchWhole wheat bread sandwich w/ Ham and cheese, Avocado, tomatoes, lettuce; OrangeMilk
pm snackPopcorn, Mixed nuts, Water
DinnerWhole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce, Lean ground meat (chicken, turkey or beef), Salad (spinach, strawberries, cheese), Milk
bedtime snackApple, Peanut butter, Water

If you feel like your child’s diet is high in fiber and they get enough fluid as well as activity but are still showing signs of constipation, make sure you tell their pediatrician.  Severe constipation may need medical attention.

Once last thing…be an example to your child!  As a parent we sometimes forget that children look at us for guidance.  You too have to eat your fruits and vegetables and drink your water.  In the end, you don’t want to be constipated, right?

Click Here to Grab Your Constipation Guide!
 

Maria-Paula Carrillo, MS, RDN, LD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.  She has worked with children and families from the start and has a passion for ensuring that her recommendations are practical so that families can use them in their daily lifestyles.  Having a family of her own, Maria-Paula gets satisfaction in helping families work together in achieving their nutritional goals.

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  1. Anna, that is key and remember they feel stress at all ages. My two year old just went through her first bout of constipation. Despite our vigilance on a healthy diet I realize now that other factors can reak havoc on their little bodies. My daughter started her early development school last week while also potty training. Needless to say that she was so excited about being with her friends and engaged with new activities that she decided she would “just hold it”. Despite adjustments to her diet the only thing that finally did the trick was a Pediatric Glycerin Suppository–not my ideal–this should only be administered under recommendation of your Doctor. We are now more vigilant as she transitions into her new routine.

  2. This is a very well written article! Good advice for parents.
    I have to mention, however, that there are psychological reasons for constipation as well. Stressful events in children’s life, parental divorce, trauma, everyday stress, anxiety etc. can mess up with kids digestive system big time.