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What To Feed A Constipated Child

Bowl of fruit and vegetables at the table

By Kate Chury RD

Though it isn’t often discussed constipation is a common problem. Most people experience at least some degree of inconsistency when it comes to our bowel movements, and that holds true for our children as well. Luckily, for the vast majority of cases, constipation is a temporary and easily managed condition.

How Can I Tell If My Child Is Constipated?

Constipation tends to manifest in two ways:

  • Seeing a marked decrease in the frequency of bowel movements and/or
  • Having stool that is dry and hard to pass

Your child may be constipated if they are straining to pass stool, are experiencing painful bowel movements, or if they are complaining of feeling full or bloated.

Constipation is defined as having less than three normal bowel movements per week. However, this is purely a guideline as not everyone has the same number of bowel movements per week. Some individuals have one or even more bowel movements per day, while others only need to eliminate their solid waste every couple of days.

To determine if your child is constipated you think about how frequently your child typically has bowel movements and take note if this number decreases. You should also consider the consistency of your child’s stool: hard, dry stool may be an indication that your child is constipated.

The Causes of Constipation

Constipation can be caused by a variety of factors. However, some of the most common causes of constipation include:

  • A change in daily routine: A significant change in daily routine such as travel or starting a new school schedule can disrupt our bowel’s usual routine. Our bowels work best when our routines are consistent, and some individuals may find that their digestive system is particularly sensitive to change.
  • Withholding bowel movements or ignoring the urge to eliminate solid waste: Children that are toilet training or dislike using public toilets may ignore their body’s signals that they need to eliminate solid waste, inadvertently throwing off their bowel’s natural rhythms.
  • Certain medications: Some medications, supplements, and vitamins such as iron and calcium can disrupt how frequently we experience bowel movements and slow the process down. This, in turn, means that bowel movements become spaced farther apart.
  • A lack of physical activity: Several studies have shown that a lack of physical activity can cause increased rates of constipation. Physical activity can stimulate and tone the muscles in our bowels, making bowel movements easier.
  • Diet: A diet that lacks fibre and adequate amounts of fluid can cause our bowel movements to become more spaced out and make our stool more difficult to pass.

Relieving Constipation

If your child is experiencing constipation, there are several strategies you can use to help get them back on track. Ensure that your child has a consistent toileting routine, both at home and at school or daycare, and is getting enough physical activity. You should also review your child’s diet to ensure it is well-balanced and contains adequate amounts of fluids and fibre.

Focusing on Fibre Relieves Constipation

Fibre is an essential part of a well-balanced diet and is found in plant foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all foods that contain fibre. Though our bodies are unable to digest fibre, it is because of this that they need it. The indigestible nature of fibre gives our stool the structure it needs to be passed easily.

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.

  • Soluble fibre absorbs water in the digestive tract and makes our stool softer
  • Insoluble fibre does not absorb water and is used to make our stools bulkier

Both types of fibre are needed to make our bowel movements easier.

Children need different amounts of fibre depending on their age and sex:

  • Children 1 – 3 years old: 19 grams per day
  • Children 4 – 8 years old: 25 grams per day
  • Boys 9 – 13 years old: 31 grams per day
  • Girls 9 – 13 years old: 26 grams per day
  • Boys 14 – 18 years old: 38 grams per day
  • Girls 14 – 18 years old: 26 grams per day

Fibre is found in a wide variety of healthy foods. To help you ensure your child is getting enough fibre here are a few child-friendly fibre-rich foods that you can introduce at meal or snack times:

Pears

a Selection of Pears

Fibre content: One medium pear contains approximately 5.3 grams of fibre

Not only are pears a great source of fibre, but their sweetness and soft texture make them an excellent food for constipated kids. Pears can be enjoyed as is or served purred if your child does not yet eat solid foods. Pear slices served with yogurt or cottage cheese is a great snack.

Avocados

Avocado opened up with the pit

Fibre content: One half of a medium sized avocado contains approximately 4.6 grams of fibre

Avocados may seem like an unlikely source of fibre, but these beloved green gems are packed with fibre. Avocados can be turned into guacamole and enjoyed with chips, served smashed on toast, or served diced.

Raspberries

Bunches of Raspberries are fibre rich

Fibre content: One half cup of raspberries contains approximately 4.2 grams of fibre

Considering how delicate raspberries are you may be surprised to learn that they are an excellent source of fibre. A bowl of raspberries is a popular treat amongst children of all ages, and raspberries can easily be added to smoothies or used to top off a bowl of yogurt or cereal.

Chickpeas

Chickpeas

Fibre content: One half cup of chickpeas contains approximately 4 grams of fibre

Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, have a mild taste and a rich, creamy texture, making them an incredibly versatile food. Children that love crunchy foods may be enticed by chickpeas that have been seasoned and roasted. For a creamy, tasty snack try pairing hummus (which is made using pureed chickpeas) with vegetable sticks, crackers, or pretzels. Hummus is available in a wide variety of flavours, making it easy to find one that appeals to your child.

Chia seeds

Chia Seeds poured out of a jar

Fibre content: One tablespoon of chia seeds contains approximately 3.7 grams of fibre

Chia seeds are an excellent food for boosting fibre intake. Just a tablespoon of these small, black seeds contains almost 4 grams of fibre. The majority of fibre found in chia seeds is soluble fibre. Chia seeds may not seem child-friendly at first glance, but they can be made into an irresistible chia pudding. Chia seeds can also be mixed into hot cereal (which is also an excellent source of fibre) or baked into tasty treats such as cookies.

Kiwis

Kiwi fruits being stacked

Fibre content: One medium sized kiwi contains approximately 2.1 grams of fibre

A kiwi a day keeps constipation at bay! Studies have shown that kiwis can help reduce constipation and reduce the need for laxatives in individuals with chronic constipation. Along with their high fibre content kiwis also contain an important enzyme called actinidin, which is thought to help promote bowel regularity. Adding a kiwi to your child’s regular snack rotation is a great way to make your child’s bowel movements a little more regular as well.

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of constipation are temporary. However, it is still important to monitor your child’s bowel movements in case medical care is needed. If your child’s constipation lasts longer than two weeks, or if your child is experiencing related symptoms such as fever, vomiting, distention, intense pain, weight loss, or blood in their stool you should take them to a doctor immediately.

If your child becomes constipated regularly, you may also want to consider consulting a registered dietician. A registered dietician can help you review your child’s diet and provide practical advice on how you can improve your child’s digestive health using foods your child will enjoy.

 

Studies cited:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00365520510011641

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3938666/

http://wprim.whocc.org.cn/admin/article/articleDetail?WPRIMID=376482&articleId=376482

About the Author

Kate Chury

Kate Chury is a Calgary Dietitian and Digestive Health Nutritionist for Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. She has a special interest in helping individuals and families manage digestive health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, constipation and other gut health issues. She also draws on her background as both a mom and professional Calgary nutrition expert to help families with a wide range of eating challenges such as meal planning, medical issues, weight concerns, disordered eating more. For more information visit www.healthstandnutrition.com.

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Our award-winning curriculum was formed through in-depth research into early childhood learning and development. A blend of play-based (Frog Street) and child-led (Emergent) curriculums, all activities are hands-on, child-guided and exceed provincial early learning frameworks.

Our dedicated and passionate early childhood educators deliver an innovative, engaging and proven curriculum that ignites a love of learning and inspires and encourages individuality in every BrightPath child. Their nurturing and attentive approach offers each child a home-away-from-home experience.

Two-way communication is important. Monthly newsletters, curriculum nights, parent interviews, open houses and our proprietary app (BrightPath Connect™) are designed to increase the interaction between our centres and families.

Children need nutrition to grow in both mind and body. Believing that food choices throughout childhood fuel life long eating habits, our menu is crafted by a Registered Nutritionist and prepared in-house daily and reflects those beliefs.

What Sets Us Apart

  • Our award-winning curriculum was formed through in-depth research into early childhood learning and development. A blend of play-based (Frog Street) and child-led (Emergent) curriculums, all activities are hands-on, child-guided and exceed provincial early learning frameworks.

  • Our dedicated and passionate early childhood educators deliver an innovative, engaging and proven curriculum that ignites a love of learning and inspires and encourages individuality in every BrightPath child. Their nurturing and attentive approach offers each child a home-away-from-home experience.

  • Two-way communication is important. Monthly newsletters, curriculum nights, parent interviews, open houses and our proprietary app (BrightPath Connect™) are designed to increase the interaction between our centres and families.

  • Children need nutrition to grow in both mind and body. Believing that food choices throughout childhood fuel life long eating habits, our menu is crafted by a Registered Nutritionist and prepared in-house daily and reflects those beliefs.