Constipation is a common problem seen in many children, and is indicated by infrequent bowel movements or hard, dry stools. The most common reason for this is early toilet training or changes in the diet and mostly, this is a temporary phase. The most basic step to deal with constipation is to encourage your child to eat more fibre-rich foods and drink more water. Later, if your child’s doctor approves, then he or she can be given laxatives.

Signs and symptoms of constipation in children are as follows:

  1. Irregular bowel movements
  2. Bowel movements that are hard, dry and very difficult to pass
  3. Pain during a bowel movement
  4. Stomach ache
  5. Small liquid traces or traces of pasty stool in your kid’s underwear is a sign that stool is backed up in the rectum
  6. Blood seen on the surface of a hard stool

If your child is scared of the pain that a bowel movement causes then he or she may try to avoid it. If you see your child cross his or her legs, clench buttocks, twist the body or make faces while trying to hold stool, it can indicate constipation.

Chronic constipation can become serious or can be a sign of some underlying condition. Consult a doctor if your child is suffering from constipation for more than two weeks, and is experiencing a fever, lack of appetite, blood in the stool, abdominal swelling, weight loss, pain during bowel movements, or rectal prolapse (where a part of the intestine comes out of the rectum).

Constipation occurs when the stool passes very slowly in the digestive tract, causing it to become hard and dry. Constipation can occur:

  • If your child is withholding his or her bowel movement because he or she is uncomfortable or does not want to take a break from playing.
  • If they are not eating enough fibre-rich food and are fussy eaters
  • If you have begun their toilet training too soon and your child is rebelling.
  • When he or she is switching from a liquid to a solid diet.
  • If there are any changes in your child’s routine while travelling.
  • If they are on any medication.
  • If they are allergic to cow’s milk and yet end up eating too many dairy products.
  • If there is a family history of constipation.

Three most important things to do to avoid constipation in children is exercise, eating healthy fibre-rich foods and drinking plenty of water. Even after doing all this, if your kid is still feeling constipated, there are certain foods that can help. Remember that fibre, which adds to the bulk, and water in stools are of utmost importance.

  1. Pears: Pears are a storehouse of vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and water, which helps relieve constipation. Moreover, one pear gives only about 60 Kcal.
  2. Popcorn: Rather than eating a packet of chips, popcorn can be a healthy alternative for your child, as long it’s not overloaded with salt and butter. This is because popcorn is rich in dietary fibre.
  3. Watermelon: 92% of this fruit is water, which helps in good bowel movement. It is also full of nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins like A, B, C and lycopene.
  4. Oats: Oatmeal is perfect as a breakfast option as it provides your child with satiety. It is very rich in fibre and absorbs water too, thus aiding in digestion.
  5. Almonds: Almonds can be eaten just like that, or sprinkled on desserts or added to a milkshake. You can also mix them with yogurt or cheese, or even grind them to use as a filling for your pies or pastries.
  6. Potatoes: Boiled and cooled potatoes have fibre and resistant starch that resist digestion and remain in the large intestine to enable the growth of good bacteria.
  7. Lentils: Lentils can be easily eaten as a side dish or can be added to your salads. They are packed with protein and fibre. You could also make lentil parathas or lentil soup.
  8. Yogurt: The bacteria in yogurt is very good for your gut. Yogurt with live cultures or probiotics is even more helpful to relieve constipation.
  9. Apples: One apple gives almost 3.6 grams of fibre. Adding peanut butter on it will not only increase the fibre content, but will also make it irresistible for kids.
  10. Carrots: Baking some carrots with cinnamon or giving them to your kids as vegetable sticks with a dip will not only make for a tasty snack but also enhance fibre in your kid’s diet.
  11. Bananas: Bananas provide 3.1g of fibre per fruit and hence is a great snack to relieve constipation fast.
  12. Whole grain bread: A peanut butter sandwich or a vegetable sandwich can make for a perfect weekend lunch option for your kids and will add on to the fibre in their daily diet too.
  13. Whole grain pasta: Whole grain pasta contains 2 grams of fibre in every half cup.
  14. Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are tasty and can just be steamed to serve as a snack, as each contains 3.8 grams of fibre.

Importance of fibre

One of the most important aspects of fibre is that it ensures smooth digestion. When coupled with ample water intake, fibre makes it easy to pass stools. This can help your toddler prevent or manage constipation. Children between the age of 1 and 18 should be given 14 to 31 grams of fibre daily. However, remember that too much fibre can cause stomach aches and diarrhoea. A balance is recommended.

Also, breakfast is the most important meal of the day as the colon contractions work at the highest level in the morning. So, eating a fibre-rich breakfast will help your kid’s natural urge to go to the toilet. Along with lifestyle modifications, create a healthy toilet routine for your child. Set aside a particular time for them to use the toilet. If your kids are intolerant to certain foods, avoid giving them the same. Remind your child to heed their natural urge which they might forget if they are playing.