Being constipated isn’t fun at all. It’s uncomfortable for adults and kids, and sometimes especially tough for those of us who care for constipated kids! Everyone seems to offer advice on how to help manage this condition, but we really like the approach of America’s favorite pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears, also known as Dr. Poo. He suggests taking a more natural approach before resorting to chemical laxatives.
“What’s normal for one child may not be the same for another,” explains Dr. Sears. But in general, constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements each week, hard and/or dry stools or unusually large or difficult-to-pass stools. “Pebble poop” or “peanut cluster poop”, as pictured in his kid-friendly poo-chart can be a sign of this uncomfortable condition.
Keep things moving naturally
You may not need to resort to chemical laxatives which according to Sears simply address the symptoms, but not the root cause of constipation. Their overuse may cause problems. “Osmotic laxatives, such as Miralax and Milk of Magnesia, work by pulling water into the stool, making it easier to pass. Overuse of these laxatives may reduce or weaken the intestine’s ability to contract. This may make their constipation worse or cause dependence, meaning there’s a chance your child may become reliant on the medication to have bowel movements. Overuse may also cause dehydration, diarrhea and an electrolyte imbalance.”
According to Sears, these eight changes may make things more pleasant for everyone.
1. Provide more water or fluids. Give your child an extra 2 or 3 glasses of water each day. If they’re not water-lovers, add a little juice (¼ juice, ¾ water) for natural flavoring.
2. Choose high-fiber foods. Fiber helps strengthen bowel function, but most kids (and adults) don’t get enough in their diets. In fact, most kids only get about half of the fiber that is recommended. Include more fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans in your child’s diet. Add 5 to your child’s age to get their minimum recommended daily fiber intake. Adding 10 is even better. In other words, a 6-year-old should consume 11 to 16 grams of fiber daily, and a 13-year-old should have at least 18 to 23 grams.
3. Supplement with fiber. Getting enough prebiotic soluble fiber, even with the most nutritious diet, is a challenge so this is one area where a supplement is smart. Just choose your brand carefully because some can cause gas, cramping and bloating. We recommend Sunfiber (also found in Regular Girl) because it’s gentle on bellies. It soothes both occasional constipation and occasional diarrhea without any excess gas or bloating. Plus, it mixes invisibly into most drinks and foods. Picky eaters won’t even know it’s there!
4. Include natural laxatives daily. Apricots and the four P’s – prunes, pears, plums, and peaches – usually exert a laxative effect. Eat strained prunes on high-fiber crackers and drink pear and apricot nectar daily. This smoothie is also a great option.
5. Avoid caffeine-containing foods and beverages, such as chocolates, colas and energy drinks. Caffeine is a stimulant, so it can encourage a bowel movement. But it may also lead to dehydration, having the opposite effect.
6. Encourage more exercise. Walk, run, skip, dance and jump with your kids. Moving can help stimulate the bowels.
7. Tell your kids to peek and tell. Teach your kids to look in the toilet bowl before they flush, and to let you know if things aren’t quite right. This handy kid-friendly poo chart can help you start the conversation.
8. Relax! Help your child associate bathroom time with something positive so they don’t worry and inhibit the process. Sing silly songs or play a little game. Kids are more likely to poo when relaxed.