Relieving toddler constipation

When toddlers are constipated, mom or dad needs to know what causes it and what to do about it. Relieving constipation in toddlers is easy if you follow a few simple tips.

Constipation occurs when a child has trouble passing stool. The longer the stool sits in the colon, the more water is being drawn back into the body. This makes the stool hard and painful to pass. If the child experiences pain during a bowel movement, he or she may become anxious and unable to eliminate. If a child delays having a bowel movement, the stool becomes even harder and more difficult to pass, which causes more pain when it finally does.

What are the symptoms?

Abdominal discomfort; hard, dry stools; and stools streaked with blood. A toddler may complain of an upset tummy or pain in the rectal area in the case of an anal fissure.

At what age do most toddlers experience constipation?

For babies and infants, breast milk or formula provides consistent nutrients and fiber that assist in regular elimination. When solid foods are introduced, the child's system has to readjust to the different consistency, nutrients, and fiber content. Babies that have been consistent with their number of dirty diapers up until now sometimes become constipated when they become toddlers by the change in food content and volume. This typically happens toward the end of the first year when toddlers have several teeth and start eating solid foods.

What can I do to prevent constipation in my toddler?

Diet is key. Make sure that your child is drinking plenty of fluids and eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. Fluid helps stools pass easier, so it's very important that your child drinks enough. If he or she becomes dehydrated, then the stool becomes firmer and harder to pass. Most pediatricians will tell you that if your toddler is urinating at least once every three hours while awake, he or she is probably getting enough to drink.

Also encourage your child to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. Apple or prune juice is sometimes all your toddler needs to maintain healthy bowel movements. Fiber bulks up and softens stools, making them easier to pass. Prunes, raisins, apples, beans, peas, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, whole grain breads, and even peanut butter are good choices that may help a constipated toddler. Popcorn and vegetable soups also have a lot of fiber and are appealing to kids. Avoid constipating foods such as white rice, bananas, carrots, milk, cheese, squash, and other yellow vegetables.

Is there a connection between constipation and potty training?

Sometimes when toddlers begin potty training, they may begin a cycle of stool-holding (resisting the urge to defecate) and avoiding the potty either because they are too busy playing or because they are scared of the potty, which makes the stool harder and even more painful to pass. If this is the case, encourage your child to sit on the potty or a potty chair for 5-10 minutes after each meal. This is the time when the intestines relax the most, allowing for easier passage of stool.

In addition, toddlers may pick up on the parents' anxiety or excessive concern about toilet training. Be sure that you maintain a relaxed attitude toward potty training, and stay in tune with your child's individual needs.

What about over-the-counter remedies for constipation?

Always be sure to consult your pediatrician before administering over-the-counter remedies to a toddler. Mineral oil and supplemental fiber preparations are sometimes used for persistent cases of constipation. DO NOT give your child a laxative in the hopes that it will soften the stools enough to pass. Laxatives can cause severe electrolyte imbalances in young children and should only be used under the care of a doctor.

Take-away Tips:

- Make sure your toddler drinks plenty of water and eats a variety of fruits and vegetables.

- Have your toddler checked for food allergies or sensitivities, especially to cow's milk, if he or she has a recurrent problem with constipation. Recent studies have shown cow's milk to cause constipation in certain toddlers.

- Make sure your toddler gets enough exercise to help with peristalsis.

- Always be aware of your child's personal eliminating habits. Some children have a bowel movement several times a day, whereas it is normal for other children to go only once every three days.

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