Treating Childhood Constipation Naturally
If your child is experiencing infrequent bowel movements or a difficult passage of stool which may include pain, they may be constipated. Constipation is a common, but should not be considered "normal", issue that many children experience as they grow. But there are natural, safe, and effective ways to treat childhood constipation.
Starting from birth, the bowel movements of babies are quite different than those of a healthy adult. Within 48 hours of birth, babies will pass meconium—substances ingested during the time spent in the uterus. Around the first week of birth, babies will normally have a soft bowel movement after each feeding. Babies younger than three months will continue to have movements a few times a day or go up to one week without having a movement. Children who are breastfed may experience less frequent bowel movements compared to their formula-fed counterparts. This is because breast milk is rich with nutrients and often there is little waste left over. By the age of two, one bowel movement per day is expected.
When bowel movements occur 3 times a week or less it is defined as constipation. Usually, childhood constipation is caused by a low fibre diet or not enough fluids in the body, but it can also be caused by introduction of food, stress, lack of exercise, rectal fissures, or other reasons.
To determine if your child may be experiencing constipation:
- Assess their comfort level when they are having a bowel movement
- Look at the stool: Does it appear formed and soft? Is it loose and in "crumbly" pieces? Does it look dry, cracked, or come out in small "rabbit pellets"?
- Feel your child’s abdomen—is it firm and tender to touch?
If your child is dealing with constipation, there are many natural treatments to help improve bowel movements, and to help children re-establish regular habits!
- Water: Since dehydration is one of the main causes of constipation, it’s not a surprise that increasing water intake will help soften the stool to allow for smooth passage. Be sure to cut out pop, energy drinks, and caffeinated beverages as they can be dehydrating (and full of unnecessary ingredients!).
- Fibre: Fibre adds bulk to the stool and ensures that all the waste from your meals gets out of your body. Before you pick up a fibre supplement, turn to dietary sources. Vegetables and fruit are a wonderful source of fibre so to be sure to include them at every meal and snack! Moreover, leafy greens contain magnesium which has a laxative effect and can help soften stools.
- Food sensitivities: Introducing new foods into your child’s diet may cause unwanted symptoms such as constipation. Common sensitivities that have been linked to constipation are: dairy, gluten, banana, corn, eggs, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, etc.), and yeast. When introducing these foods to your child, be sure to document any negative reactions they experience. Eliminate those foods from their diet if there seems to be a correlation.
- Probiotics: These good bacteria can increase bowel movements and help soften stool. They come from many food sources or can be found in supplement form. Because probiotics can come in many strains, it’s best to speak with your medical or naturopathic doctor before choosing the best probiotic for your child.
- Massage: This technique may help get things moving. When massaging the abdomen, start at the lower right corner, moving up towards the ribs, across to the left, down to the lower left side, and back to the lower right corner. Massaging with castor oil can also help as it has a natural laxative effect when used topically.
Addressing stress and increasing physical activity are other important ways to treat the cause of constipation. If you notice that there is blood in your child’s stool, if he is experiencing severe pain, if an anal tear is present, or a fever (along with constipation) is beginning, please consult your family doctor.
*Originally published June 9, 2016