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Toddler constipation - common causes & treatment

 
So why do toddlers suffer from constipation? It’s fairly common in this age group and can appear out of nowhere for some or be carried on from infancy for others. We look at some of the reasons why toddlers suffer from constipation, symptoms, common causes and remedies to help treat it.
So why do toddlers suffer from constipation?

It’s fairly common in this age group and can appear out of nowhere for some or be carried on from infancy for others.

We look at some of the reasons why toddlers suffer from constipation, symptoms, common causes and remedies to help treat it.


Why toddlers suffer from constipation


The transition from an infant to a toddler is a time of many changes.

Your little one is becoming more aware of their body, they’re trying new foods and they’re experiencing new social situations.

All of these things can contribute to them having constipation.

 

Constipation symptoms


How can you tell if your child is constipated? Typical signs include:
 
  • Painful bowel movements and hard dry stools that are uncomfortable to pass
 
  • Stomach pain and bloating
 
  • Bleeding with bowel movements
 
  • Less frequent bowel movements than usual
 
  • Very watery, liquid stools which can slip past the blockage in the lower intestine
 

Common causes of constipation

 

Potty/toilet training

 
  • Some toddlers will begin to hold their bowel movements when they start toilet training as they are fearful of using the toilet. Holding in a bowel movement can cause it to become hard to pass and lead to constipation.
 

Eating too many binding foods

 
  • Binding foods such as bananas, dairy foods and processed grains can all contribute to constipation.
 

Food sensitivities or an intolerance

 
  • If your toddler is sensitive or has a food intolerance they might have difficulty digesting them, which in turn can cause constipation
 

Dehydration

 
  • If your toddler is not drinking enough water throughout the day, this may contribute to constipation too.
 

Painful bowel movements

 
  • Having one painful bowel movement that can cause a rectal or anal tear can cause toddlers to instinctively hold in future bowel movements to avoid pain. This can create an unfortunate cycle of constipation.


Lack of activity

 
  • Movement helps blood flow to your child's digestive system, so they may experience constipation if they're not active over long periods of time.
 

Treating toddler constipation

 

1. Take the pressure off toilet training


Whilst parents can sometimes be in a hurry to start toilet training their toddler, toddlers often want nothing to do with the toilet.

When a toddler feels pressured to use the toilet or a potty, they might begin holding in their poo. If they hold it in, it becomes difficult to pass and can be painful. If it is painful one time, they may instinctively hold it in again, creating a bad cycle of constipation.

Toddlers might also feel uncomfortable using a toilet. If their feet aren’t on the ground and there’s a lot of space below, sitting on the toilet can make them feel insecure. If there’s any splashing below, that can also make them feel uncomfortable.

If you believe toilet training might be contributing to constipation, there are a few things you can try. First, be sure they are really showing signs of toileting readiness. Toilet training too soon can cause unnecessary stress for both parents and child.

If your toddler is showing signs of readiness, take things slowly. Let them take the lead and keep the pressure down.
 

2. Avoid or limit binding foods


Toddlers slowly begin to experience a variety of new foods and some these can lead to constipation.

Many toddlers are weaning or being weaned from breast milk which is easily digested, to difficult to digest dairy products.

While dairy products from cows is a source of protein, calcium and healthy fats, little tummies aren’t always able to easily digest dairy products.

If you believe dairy is contributing to constipation, meet with a dietician to help you come up with a diet that provides adequate nutrition with limited dairy.

Processed grains are often low in nutrition and fibre making them difficult to digest too. Try to serve only whole grains to your toddler and limit processed grains like white breads, crackers and cereals.

Bananas are a healthy food, but eating too many can lead to constipation in some toddlers.
 

3. Make sure your toddler is well hydrated


Toddlers often get so wrapped up in playing that they can miss their body’s signals to drink. It can be difficult at times to keep a toddler hydrated, but it is essential to preventing constipation.

Keeping a cup of water or other kids drinks easily accessible might help your toddler stay hydrated. If they don’t need to stop playing and communicate the need for a drink they may be more likely to listen to their body’s cues.

Another idea is to offer foods with a high water content such as grapes, watermelon and cucumbers. These foods can help them stay hydrated even when they aren’t drinking as much as they should.
 

4. Offer foods high in fibre


Fibre is necessary for good digestion. Offering a healthy whole foods diet can help ensure your toddler gets adequate fibre to help treat and prevent constipation.

Some whole foods have more fibre than others. If your toddler is prone to constipation, try offering high fibre foods such as:
 
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains
  • Quinoa
  • Apples
  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Parsnips
  • Spinach

If your little one is a fussy eater, try offering them a blended smoothie with some of the foods listed above.
 

5. Check for sensitivities or intolerances


If your child suffers from chronic constipation your doctor will likely look into food sensitivities or intolerances.

When a child has a food sensitivity or food intolerance they’re unable to easily digest the offending food. If a food sensitivity or intolerance is found, eliminating that food from their diet will likely help alleviate constipation.
 
For instance, if your child shows any signs of gluten intolerance they might be checked for celiac disease
 
Secondary lactose intolerance can also lead to constipation. This occurs after the gut has been damaged by illness or eating a food they’re sensitive to.
 

Contacting your doctor


Constipation in children usually isn't serious. However, chronic constipation may lead to complications or signal an underlying condition.

Take your child to a doctor if the constipation lasts longer than two weeks or is accompanied by:
 
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Painful tears in the skin around the anus (anal fissures)
  • Intestinal protrusion out of the anus (rectal prolapse)

Leading up to their appointment, it might be helpful to keep a food diary and make a note of your toddler's typical bowel habits and what seems to have changed.

Generally, toddler constipation is easily remedied with diet and lifestyle changes. If that isn’t the case for your child, be persistent in working with your doctor to find a solution.


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