by Russel McKenna, DO, pediatrician, Treehouse Clinic
A frequent complaint for a child to express is that their “tummy hurts.” This symptom is vague and could be for many reasons. One common reason, but often not considered, is constipation. Constipation occurs when stools are hard and difficult to pass. It may be associated with obvious complaints from your child. It also may go unnoticed until it has been ongoing for months.
Many things contribute to a child becoming constipated. Some general recommendations to help a child overcome or never become constipated are to drink water, eat fiber, avoid constipating foods, spend time on the toilet and learn to recognize signs.
Drink water. As a general rule, children should drink a glass of water with each meal and one in between. This is a starting point. As children age and become more active they will require more water intake.
Eat fiber. Fiber is a big, fat sugar that stays in your intestines and is not digested. It attracts water. These two factors help to bulk up the stools making them softer and easier to pass. 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day will help soften stools.
Avoid constipating foods. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Hard or firm stools may exist because children eat too much of one thing. One example is a child who drinks excessive amounts of milk or eats too much cheese. Often the overconsumption of a food high in calories and low in fiber distracts a child from drinking enough water and eating a wide variety of foods including fruits and vegetables.
Spend time on the toilet. Children that are potty trained and have infrequent or harder stools need to spend time on the toilet waiting for “it” to come. Waiting may bring an urge or feeling to poop. Twenty minutes in the morning and evening sitting on the toilet will provide time to feel that urge.
Avoid ignorant moments. Watch your child, and learn to recognize “the look” on their face when you know they are holding in their poop and “ignoring” the urge to have a bowel movement. This stool-holding behavior will lead to larger and harder stools more difficult and traumatic to pass.
As with all health concerns, ask your child’s health care provider for help if your child suffers from constipation.