Is Your Child's Diet Causing Constipation?

Close shot of baby eating a banana
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Constipation in children is a frustrating problem for many parents, and dietary changes may offer relief. However, sometimes parents don't realize their children are constipated. It's easy to mistake the symptoms for a potty training problem in younger children. Older children may complain of stomach aches if they are constipated.

What Causes Constipation?

Diets that are high in residue and low in fiber can play a role in the development of constipation in children. This might include eating a lot of residue foods (such as white flour and white rice), and not eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

If your child is constipated, increase the amount of fiber and bran in your child's diet by feeding them more high fiber foods. Increase your child's intake of fluid each day, especially water and apple, pear, and/or prune juice.

Preventing Constipation in Young Children

Foods and drinks that are often thought to help prevent constipation include many fresh fruits that you eat with the skin on, including apples, grapes, and peaches. Also helpful are many fresh fruits with high water content, such as watermelon and cantaloupe.

Add High Fiber Foods

  • Raw vegetables
  • Beans
  • Raisins
  • Prunes and figs
  • Foods made with whole grains (such as whole wheat bread)
  • Shredded wheat
  • Popcorn (caution: choking hazard for younger kids)
  • Bran cereals and bran muffins
  • Fiber wafers
  • Vegetable soup

Constipation Treatment

Be sure to talk to your child's pediatrician for more help with treating or preventing constipation in children. In the meantime, read food labels to choose foods that are high in fiber.

Consider using a stool softener or laxative if dietary changes are not quickly helping your child's constipation. Although there are many OTC medications available, Miralax (polyethylene glycol) is a popular option, as it has no taste or odor, works well, and is tolerated by most children.

A schedule of having your child trying to have a bowel movement twice a day can be helpful to get them in the habit of going. Choose a time, such as right after meals, when they are most likely to have a bowel movement. Don't force them. Simply encourage them to try to go for a few minutes.

Regular exercise can sometimes help children have more regular bowel movements. Be sure to see if constipation is listed as a side effect of any medicines that your child takes on a regular basis.

Encopresis, in which your child has stooling accidents, can be a complication of constipation. Keep in mind that constipation often takes months and months (if not longer) to correct, that constipation can sometimes be caused by something more serious than a simple diet problem. Constipation sometimes requires an evaluation by a pediatric gastroenterologist for more help.

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