Nutrition · Parenting

Constipation in children

toddler sitting on the potty in the bathroom

Is your child straining when going to the bathroom? They may be constipated. Constipation in young children is common and can be uncomfortable/painful for them. As a dietitian, I often hear concerns from parents that their child is having less frequent bowel movements or when they have to “go”, it is painful.

How do I know if my child is constipated?

If your child is passing hard and dry stools less often than usual and is having difficulty doing so, they may be constipated. If your child is having bowel movements several days apart, but they are soft and easy to pass, your child may not be constipated.

On-going constipation may require medical treatment, consult your doctor if you are concerned about your child’s constipation.

Why is my child constipated and how can I help?

  1. Your child may not be eating enough fibre

If your child is not eating enough fibre, it will be harder for them to pass bowel movements. Aim to increase foods like beans, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains in your child’s diet. Offer fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack and replace refined or white grains with whole grains whenever possible.

If your child is not consuming many of these foods, add them slowly, as it takes time to adjust to higher fibre intakes. You will also need to increase your child’s water intake. Fibre may cause gas initially. Here’s a double chocolate brownie recipe that’s packed with fibre that you and your child can bake together.

  1. Your child may not be drinking enough fluid     

Fluids help add moisture back into stool, making them softer and easier to pass. If your child is drinking enough fluids, they will have pale or clear coloured urine. In this case, drinking more fluids will not help prevent constipation. When your child is thirsty, offer water. Remember to offer fluids from an open cup if your child is eating solid foods.

Here’s some naturally infused water recipes to add flavour to your child’s water.

  1. Your child may be drinking too much milk or juice

If your child is drinking lots of milk or juice, they may be too full to consume other foods. This can lower their fibre intake and cause constipation.

If your child is more than one year old, aim to keep milk intake between 2 and 3 cups per day. Do not exceed ¾ of a cup (175 mL) of juice per day. Offer water when your child is thirsty.

  1. Your child may have allergies

Talk to your doctor if you suspect your child has allergies.

  1. Your child may be holding in their bowel movements

Children may ‘hold in’ bowel movements for a number of reasons. These include fears of the toilet, fears of pain, feeling pressured to learn to use the toilet or because they are too busy playing. Your child may appear constipated by stiffening or wriggling into strange positions, but this may be a sign of ‘holding it in.’

  1. Your child may need more physical activity

Physical activity has great benefits for your child and keeping their digestive systems moving and working is just one of them! Stay active together and be a role model to your child by modelling healthy lifestyles. Take walks together, go to the park or join play groups in your local community.  Here’s a list of free activities to do in Toronto

Avoid laxatives, medications or herbal supplements as a method of relieving constipation without consulting a health care provider first.

You can always connect with a health professional via eChat or call (416) 338-7600 if you have additional questions.

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