Constipation in children is very common—and yet, it sometimes takes a while to be diagnosed and therefore, treated—because its symptoms may differ from those experienced as an adult. Here’s a quick look at the main symptoms and the natural solutions that can be put in place quickly to relieve your child.
How does constipation manifest itself in children?
Pediatric constipation often goes unnoticed, because its symptoms do not sound like those of chronic constipation, as experienced as an adult.
In fact, constipation in children can cause
- Severe stomach pain
- A drastic decrease in appetite, or even a complete loss of appetite—and even nausea
- Pain during defecation and even, in the long term, fecal incontinence… This can have serious consequences on your child’s self-esteem.
It is therefore essential to consult a doctor at the first alarming signs—especially if you notice that your child defecates fewer than 4 times a week.
Parenting tip: Be aware that contrary to what you might think—your child can be constipated even if his stools are soft when he poops. This is because chronic constipation can cause “plugs” to form in the bowel. Once the plug is evacuated, the stools that follow tend to be softer—and can even be almost liquid.
What causes constipation in children?
Pediatric constipation can be caused by many factors and often occurs at the age of potty training, but it can occur as early as 6 months of age. It is usually referred to as “functional,” meaning that it does not have an organic etiology (i.e., it is not the result of an organ dysfunction).
In many cases, constipation occurs when a child has had a painful bowel movement and, in order not to suffer, holds the stool. This is called encopresis. This leads to alternating episodes of constipation and incontinence, due to the formation of fecal impaction (the famous “plugs,” mentioned above).
The goal: soft, painless stools!
To relieve your child and cure them, a set of actions must be put in place with the help of your family doctor:
Tip 1: Keep an eye out for physical signs
Does your child squat with their heels tucked under the buttocks? Do they rock or walk with a stiff body, on tiptoe? Do they cross their legs and look uncomfortable? If so, chances are they’re trying to hold in their stool at these times until their urge to defecate disappears. At these times, you can encourage them to relax and loosen the muscles in their body.
Tip #2: Change your attitude
For many parents, the fact that their child soils their panties is a source of immense frustration… We often think (wrongly!) that our child is doing it on purpose. But this is not the case! As your child holds it in to avoid pain, their stool becomes harder and they have “accidents” because of the engorgement that occurs around the hard stool stuck in their rectum.
Tip #3: Adapt the routine
It may sound weird, but scheduling time in your child’s routine to poop can make a big difference. If you’re “regular”, you probably have a bowel movement at about the same time every day. The idea is to encourage your child to develop similar habits. A good time to do this is in the morning, after lunch (say within an hour, ideally) and ideally encourage your child to sit on the toilet twice during the day for a few minutes.
Parenting tip: To make evacuation easier, consider offering your child a small booster seat, such as the squatty potty!
Tip #4: Accept daily stool softeners
To make bowel movements easier and prevent blockages, your doctor will probably prescribe stool softeners to be taken daily over an extended period of time. While many of us naturally prefer to avoid medication—especially over the long term—these laxatives are safe and it is important to follow your doctor’s advice and give them to your child if appropriate. It’s also important to keep an eye on the balance and adjust the dosage according to the response to the laxatives.
Tip #5: Get moving as a family
It’s not scientifically proven, but many parents find that moving around stimulates bowel movements. You’ve probably experienced it yourself—when within 5 minutes of arriving at the park, your child states that they want to poop 🙂 Try to schedule a half hour of outdoor time with your child every day and encourage them to run around playing tag or ball, for example!
Tip #6: Make a shift in their diet
Getting your child to eat more vegetables and fruit is an everyday struggle … and it’s even more so when your child is constipated! Their diet should include whole-grain cereals, fruits and vegetables—especially green vegetables EVERY DAY! And, to help your child’s body absorb fibre, it’s important to get them to drink plenty of fluids.
Parenting tip: consider buying your child a nice insulated water bottle so they always have fresh water on hand! And, if your child is a fussy eater, you can hide some veggies in a smoothie in the morning—kale and spinach are barely noticeable when mixed with a little mango and pineapple!
Tip #7: Massage your kid
Last (but not least!), you can massage your child. When done properly, an abdominal massage helps with bowel movements and loosens up the stomach muscles. The key is to massage your child in a comforting atmosphere and make sure the room temperature is warm enough (as are your hands!) for your child to really relax.
Relieving your child’s constipation pain
If your child suffers from tummy aches, a warm moist hot water bottle can be extremely handy for soothing their pain naturally. The Béké-Bobo therapeutic teddy bear is a natural pain reliever that has been effectively treating little tummies for over 20 years, as hundreds of parents around the world have testified.
Getting rid of constipation in children is a long process and can be stressful for parents and children. In fact, it usually takes 6 months to really regulate bowel movements and stop the laxative treatment, and then you have to remain vigilant in case of a relapse. But by staying positive and keeping a smile on your face, you will get there faster!