It’s a reality of parenting life: you find yourself discussing the topic of ‘poop’ more often than you ever imagined possible. Otherwise interesting, well-rounded, and educated adults can fill entire evenings with stories of bathtub "incidents," mid-flight diaper changes, and adventures in toilet training. What, exactly, did we talk about before this fascinating subject entered our lives?
Sometimes, however, the poop isn’t quite so free-flowing as the conversation. Got a constipated kid? Read on.
Constipation in children is extremely common. In particular, it tends to strike when kids are in the toilet training phase, and once school begins. Many things conspire to cause constipation in kids, and it’s often multiple factors that will land your child in this pickle. Dietary issues, like too little fluid or too little fibre, frequently contribute. A sedentary lifestyle can also mire a kid’s system. Then, there’s all the behavioural stuff. Life’s busy when you’re a kid. Who wants to go to the bathroom when there are trees to climb, Lego to build, and video games to play? Embarrassment—to use public toilets, to ask a teacher—can also be the culprit.
So, what to do for your little one? Here are five key strategies.
More fluids equal softer stool that’s easier to pass. Water is the best choice. Beware excessive amounts of milk and other dairy—these may worsen constipation. Canada’s Food Guide recommends 2-3 daily servings of diary for kids aged 4-9.
Dietary fibre is indigestible and holds water in the stool, keeping things moving. But you don’t have to start force-feeding your child prunes and bran flakes. Some great kid favourites are loaded with fibre: apples, grapes, granola bars, plums, popcorn, and oatmeal.
The thing is, it’s not just arms and legs that get moving with exercise. Physical activity is a natural bowel-stimulator. Get your kids off the couch, click off the television, and power down the iPad. Besides, they’ll enjoy the benefits of healthier hearts and trimmer tummies.
Because it’s so common for constipation to have behavioural underpinnings, you need to re-create healthy habits. For starters, designate a certain time each day for your tot to toddle off to the toilet. The best time to go is after a meal, and bowels are most active in the morning—so a post-breakfast trip to the washroom is a natural choice. Make sure you plan enough time for your child to have a relaxed bathroom visit.
When you first start implementing regular ‘bathroom time,’ it’s likely nothing will happen. That’s okay. After a few days, maybe more, of doing this, your kid and his digestive system will start to cotton on.
If you’ve tried everything, and still no luck, you need some extra help. There are medications that can relieve constipation, but you should talk to your doctor before trying any of them. Suppositories, stool softeners, and laxatives all have their place, but need to be used judiciously.
Make sure you bring your child to see the doctor if constipation has been persistent for more than two weeks. Sooner, if there are any other symptoms such as fever, weight loss, or blood in the stool.
So there you have it. Relief is in sight. And, as a bonus, you’re freshly armed with all kinds of interesting tidbits to discuss at your next dinner party.