Constipation is a very common problem among children. A child is considered constipated when they has fewer than three bowel movements in a week; has difficulty having a bowel movement; or when the stools are hard, dry, and unusually large.
Constipation usually isn’t a cause for concern — it’s preventable and most cases can be remedied with healthy eating and exercise.
Some tips to help prevent constipation in children:
- Ensure you child is having enough fluids! Drinking enough water and other liquids helps stools move more easily through the intestines. The amount of fluid varies according to weight and age (as a general rule, most school-age children need 3 to 4 glasses of water a day). Prune juice and apple juice are also very helpful in preventing or alleviating constipation.
- Increase the fibre content of your child’s diet. Foods that are high in fibre, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables can help prevent constipation. A fibre supplement can also be used. Remember, popcorn is high in fibre too!
- Increase your child’s fruit intake. Fruit contains fibre known as pectin. Fruits highest in pectin include apples, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons and grapefruit), pears and apricots. Ripe fruit contains more pectin.
- Limit traditionally constipating foods. These include dairy, cooked carrots, bananas and high fat/processed food.
- Make sure your children do enough exercise. Physical activity encourages bowel activity so urge your children to get plenty of exercise. Formal exercise is not essential – promote playing catch, riding bikes and roller-skating.
- Ensure a regular meal schedule. Since eating is a natural stimulant for the bowels, regular meals may assist children to develop habitual bowel habits. If necessary, schedule breakfast a little earlier to give your child a chance for a relaxed visit to the bathroom before school.
- Get children into the habit of going. Try have your child – who fights the urge to go to the bathroom – sit on the toilet for about 10 minutes at around the same time each day, preferably after a meal.
- Do not give laxatives, unless medically prescribed! Talk with your doctor before giving your child any kind of over-the-counter or prescription laxatives. Just because some may say ‘natural’ does not mean that their safety in children has been established.
In most cases, these small changes can go a long way toward helping your child feel better, less bloated and more comfortable.