Dealing with constipation in children

Healthy children

Constipation is an issue that many young children suffer from at some time or other, but when it is prolonged or reoccurs often it can become a big issue for both the child and the parents.

What is constipation?

Constipation is categorised by your child passing a stool less than 3 times per week. The stool is often difficult to push out, causing pain. It may be very small like rabbit droppings and is often dry, hard or lumpy.

Going longer than 3 days without passing a stool is too long and makes the motion much more difficult to pass.

Some of the symptoms of constipation in children include having reduced bowel movements, straining to go, hard or small stools, and a sense that everything didn’t come out. ‘Overflow’ diarrhoea can occur due to impaction of the faeces, and bloating and feeling sick can also be symptoms.

If your child is constipated, they may find it painful to poo. This can create a vicious circle: the more it hurts, the more they hold it in and are less likely to go to the toilet.  Don’t make a big issue of it, otherwise, they will just get more stressed.  They need to understand that poo’ing is perfectly normal and everyone does it.  This ‘Where’s the poop’ book, available to buy from Amazon can be helpful to get them to understand.

Symptoms of constipation in your child

These are the things to look our for:

  • stomach cramps (the pain tends to come and go)
  • gassiness
  • soiling
  • your child feeling less hungry than usual
  • irritable behaviour
  • anal fissures (small splits of the skin around the anus) that cause pain and bleeding when doing a poo – they can be caused by straining to pass a large, hard poo
  • holding-on behaviour, such as squatting, crossing legs or refusing to sit on the toilet
  • they may look more bloated than usual

Tests that GPs and hospitals may undertake to rule out ‘red flags’

If the constipation becomes chronic your doctor may conduct further tests to rule out any underlying causes. These include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Autoimmune bowel diseases
  • Colon cancer
  • Coeliac disease

Risk factors and causes

The majority of times though, the reason is one of the below:

  • Use of antibiotics which disrupts the natural gut flora
  • Dehydration
  • Small intestinal overgrowth (SIBO), candida.  Read my SIBO blog to find out more here.
  • IBS/ IBD
  • Stress
  • Food intolerances (Lactose, gluten, eggs, fructose etc)
  • Lack of digestive enzymes or low stomach acid
  • Overuse of laxatives
  • Certain medications, especially if they’ve had antibiotics at any time in their life
  • Magnesium deficiency (which is prevalent in high-stress children)
  • Motility problems
  • Resisting the urge to pass a stool
  • Not being active enough
  • Children who drink large amounts of cow’s milk may become constipated – this can be for many reasons including that they fill up on milk which doesn’t contain any fibre and aren’t hungry for proper meals meaning they miss out on fibre. Milk can also be mucous forming in some children, and this can slow down transit time in the bowel
  • Lack of fibre in the diet

Fibre recommendations for children

It can be a challenge to make children consume enough fibre for a healthy gut, especially if they are a picky eater. Below are the recommended intake guidelines for children of different ages:

Age (years) Recommended intake of fibre
 2-5 15g per day
 5-11 20g per day
 11-16 25g per day
 17 and over 30g per day

Tips to help reduce the risk of constipation in children

Here are my recommendations and top tips that you can do at home to prevent and relieve your child’s constipation. Though, of course, if you have any concerns about your child’s health you should take them to your GP.

  • Give your child one of our Live Bacteria probiotic capsules, especially after a course of antibiotics (you can open the capsule and sprinkle the powder into a cold drink, mix in yoghurt, ice-cream or on food). Antibiotics have a notorious reputation for causing constipation in both children and adults
Just for tummies Live Bacteria Probiotic Capsules
Click on the image to buy my Live Bacteria probiotic capsules
  • Ensure food is properly digested, making sure your child chews their food enough. Ideally, they should try to do at least 20 chews per mouthful
  • Hydrate properly, try adding 2 extra glasses of water
  • Ensure adequate fibre is consumed for their age  – particularly soluble fibre
  • Increase their fruit and vegetable intake – 2 fruit + 5 veg
  • Ensure adequate magnesium intake to keep bowels moving regularly – you can rub this magnesium lotion onto your child’s tummy before bed to help them relax and sleep better, or you can give them supplements in chewy tablet or powder form (which can be sprinkled onto food)
  • Get them to engage in physical activity
  • Invest in a squatty potty for the toilet so that the stool can pass more easily.
  • Ask if they feel worried about using a potty or toilet – some children do not like to poo in certain situations such as nursery or school.
  • Stay calm and reassuring so that your child doesn’t see going to the toilet as a stressful situation
  • Try to gently move your child’s legs in a cycling motion or massage their tummy to stimulate their bowels. You can do this with babies too.

Foods to be aware of

There are certain foods that can exacerbate the problem. These are:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Excess red meat
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Processed foods

Foods that help

  • Water – make sure your child is kept hydrated and flushes their system out by drinking plenty of water
  • Natural fibre sources – fruits, vegetables, oats, brown rice, quinoa, seeds, nuts
  • Chamomile and peppermint tea – helps with digestion
  • Anti-inflammatory foods – oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, turmeric, ginger
  • Extra vegetables – try hiding them in tomato sauces, smoothies, soups, etc. if they refuse to eat them
  • Fermented foods – kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir are all good as they contain beneficial bacteria. It’s important to note though that some people may react to these if they have SIBO
  • Lemon – add a little fresh lemon to your child’s water to stimulate their digestion
  • Flaxseeds – you can add milled flaxseed to their porridge, smoothies, etc
  • Dark leafy greens and dark chocolate for a magnesium boost
  • Apricots contain sorbitol which may have a natural laxative effect
  • Prune puree is a good natural laxative that can be mixed in to yoghurt/ porridge etc. My 8-month-old grand-daughter loves Deliciously Ella’s prune puree
  • Beans and pulses – you can incorporate these into soups, stews, chillies, humous, etc

Need more help?

Join our active Facebook group, Tummy Talk, for more advice and support on childhood constipation.

You can make your child some homemade probiotic iced lollies too. It’s an easy way to get probiotics into their tummy, without them knowing. You can download my recipe by clicking on the image below.

Probiotic ice lollies
Download the recipe for my probiotic iced lollies by clicking the image