What foods are good for children with constipation?
Constipation in kids is quite common, and while it usually doesn't have a serious cause, it is important to resolve it promptly to prevent the problem becoming chronic.
Signs of constipation in children
Your child is constipated if they aren't having daily bowel movements or their bowel movements are painful and hard. Some children have very large stools every 2-3 days, this is also a sign that your child is constipated. Some children can have associated stomach aches or leakage of stool (encopresis).
If your child has been suffering from constipation for some time they may have an anal fissure. This is a small split at the entrance to the anus that causes pain and bleeding. They result from straining to pass a stool. This blood is usually bright red, even pink in colour, however, any bleeding should be investigated by a doctor.
What causes constipation?
There are many reasons children become constipated. These may include:
- Lack of dietary fibre
- Poor hydration
- Excess consumption of processed foods
- Excess consumption of dairy products especially cheese
- Lack of movement and exercise
- Some supplements or medications
- Food sensitivities
- Previous pain passing a stool
If addressing these causes does not resolve your child's constipation further investigation may be warranted. Medical conditions such as SIBO, SIFO, food intolerances, celiac disease or thyroid disorders may be the causation.
Foods for constipation
Fibre rich fruit and vegetables such as berries, broccoli, spinach, green beans, kiwi fruit, pears and apples can help with constipation. In particularly apples and pears are high in a prebiotic fibre called pectin that is beneficial for gut health. I recommend cooked apple and pear for children, leaving some of the skin on, as this is the best source of the pectin.
Herbs and spices added to foods or made into herbal teas can be beneficial for constipation relief. Fennel, cinnamon licorice, ginger, dandelion and peppermint can be enjoyed as tea, both hot or cold, and have the added benefit of being soothing on the digestive tract as well as hydrating.
Good fats such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee, macadamia nut oil or avocado oil smooth the insides of the bowel, making it easier for stools to pass. They also help the stool hold in more water, keeping it softer. Try using coconut oil or MCT oil in smoothies.
Water is essential for gut health and for bowel motility. So many children don't drink enough water. Improve water intake with fruit and herbs, iced tea or icy poles. Also foods high in water include cucumber, lettuce, celery and melon.
Prebiotic fibres such as slippery elm, psyllium husks, guar gum, inulin and green banana flour are all excellent sources of pre-biotic fibre and can help relieve constipation, however, it is essential that your child is sufficiency hydrated before using these fibres.
Probiotics foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kava, kefir and kombucha feed the microbiome and help regulation gut motility and can therefore be helpful in resolving constipation. Add a spoonful of sauerkraut to a salad, most kids enjoy the tangy crunchy taste.
Stool softeners and laxatives
Over the counter stool softeners and laxatives are often prescribed for children or adults with constipation. These work by drawing water into the colon to allow the stool to soften and be easily passed. There are a number of issues with using these products. Firstly, they don't address the motility of the entire bowel therefore don't address the underlying cause of the constipation and secondly they kill off good bacteria in the gut which is necessary for bowel motility and also our health and well being generally. There are many natural products like licorice root and dandelion which can be used to relieve constipation but not impact your child's gut health.
While it is important to include the above foods in your child diet it is also important to reduce or eliminate foods that cause constipation and if necessary investigate food intolerances and gut health. Abdominal massage, diaphragmatic breathing, essential oils and bowel retaining may also be helpful in addressing your child's constipation, as well as managing stress and improving sleep.
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