Constipation in Toddlers
When little ones have tummy aches it can be difficult to discern what is wrong. You can’t read their minds and they often don’t have the vocabulary to describe it. If you suspect constipation and you have made significant changes in the child’s diet recently, constipation may be the culprit. Changes in diet, such as switching from breast milk to bottles or from liquid to solid foods, can mean difficulty for a child’s tummy. These changes can confuse the digestive system while the body gets used to these newly introduced foods that require the bowels to work a little harder. For these reasons, constipation in toddlers is a somewhat common problem.
Also, toddlers often have limited diets which include a lot of milk, cheese, bananas, breads and cereals. Making sure that their diet also includes fiber-packed foods is important. Sprinkling some wheat germ on their cereal or giving them apple juice daily are small changes that can help to prevent constipation before it starts.
Toddler Constipation–Warning Signs
If you don’t remember the last time you changed a poopy diaper on your toddler, or if they haven’t pooped in the toilet for several days, he or she may be at risk for constipation. It’s difficult to tell when a child is constipated because their general fussiness could be caused by a myriad of things, so you need to narrow down what the cause might be.
Stools that seem to be dry and hard or difficult for the child to evacuate from the bowels may be warning signs of constipation. Some toddlers might not like to interrupt their play to use the toilet, so they ignore their bodies’ signs that they need to. This clenching of the rear end can be another sign of constipation in toddlers.
Although suppositories and other medications are available from the pharmacy for treating constipation, it’s best for the child if you can try to take a natural approach first. Most people don’t love the idea of pumping their kids full of chemicals. Because the culprit for causing constipation in toddlers is often their diet, it’s best if you can use the diet to help remedy the situation as well.
Foods to Eat
Toddlers are notoriously picky about what they eat, but getting some dark green spinach with fiber and magnesium into them will be useful. Maybe try a smoothie with fresh fruits that also have laxative properties such as apples or pears (avoid bananas). The more roughage and fiber you can get them to eat, such as steel cut oats, the better off they will be.
Prunes, dates, and figs all have properties that help the bowels to move. This includes the fig bars called Fig Newtons, which are similar to cookies. If a few of these are given to a child with a glass of apple juice, in a few hours it should begin helping relieve some of the pain and difficulties of constipation. If you can get them to drink prune juice, which has a bit of a pungent taste, that’s even better. Or add just a splash of prune juice to their apple juice, put a lid on it, and maybe they’ll be fooled!
Adding a tablespoon of light corn syrup, or a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar, to a cup of water or pear juice can be helpful in easing constipation. This will keep the child from getting dehydrated, which can further complicate constipation. If you can slip a little oil into the mix, such as mineral oil, that will help lubricate the stool for easier removal.
Though you don’t want to overdo it, some herbal teas can be helpful in remedying constipation. Chamomile tea, rhubarb root, green tea, and fennel tea all contain properties which can loosen the bowls. The amount of tea given should be about half of what an adult might drink. Of course, you’ll need to steep the tea and let it sit, serving it to your little one lukewarm so as not to risk any burns. You may be able to mix tea with juice as a disguise if the tea by itself is too bitter.
Honey and blackstrap molasses are also great laxatives which can be used to sweeten foods your toddler is already used to eating. This is a great way to make the tea more tasty as well. Cutting back your toddler’s intake of milk or other dairy products for a bit, may also aid in getting their bowels to move.
Walking is especially helpful to get the bowels churning, so keep that toddler on the move as much as possible. For babies, lie them on their backs and move their legs slowly in a bicycling movement in a very relaxing, gentle way to stimulate a bowel movement.
Gentle massage of the stomach and bowels is another way to loosen up tightly impacted bowels, as well as helping little tummies feel better while they are in pain. Be careful, however, not to put too much pressure on the abdomen. Just a soft touch should be enough to help the child relax.
One reason toddlers may have difficulty with a bowel movement if they are using an adult toilet is that their feet don’t touch the ground. They have no leverage with which to push, and their bowel muscles may not be super developed yet. If you can arrange for them to have a step stool in front of the toilet to rest their feet on, this may help. Or let them use a potty built for their own size.
Try to make the bathroom an “enjoyable” place for the child to be, rather than a place that is stressful. Sometimes it takes a little bit of sitting on the toilet to spur the bowels to begin moving. Provide picture books, music, or whatever it takes for your toddler to feel comfortable on the toilet in order to do his or her business. Also, you may need to relax in order to help your little one relax!
Whatever you do – keep in mind that constipation in toddlers can lead to more serious problems. Watch for the warning signs and treat your toddler accordingly. More often than not, keeping it natural is the easiest, best and cheapest remedy for toddler constipation.
Image: “I Poop!” from Flickr by evilpeacock
Image: “sleeping” from Flickr by olaerik
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