Constipation in toddlerhood

As a parent, we often feel helpless when it comes to our children’s bowel habits and what we can perhaps do to prevent them from suffering from constipation. Here I discuss some simple, practical ways to help with your child’s bowel habits and what could be the culprit when it comes to irregular stool passing.

What is classified as constipation in children?

Constipation is the passing of small, hard, irregular stools. This can cause tummy pains and a poor appetite in young children. ‘Normal’ bowel frequency can vary greatly between children. Regardless of their frequency, normal stools should be soft, formed and easy to pass.

A number of different things can affect your child’s bowels:

  • Poor eating habits
  • Lack of structure and routine with meal times
  • Intake of refined carbohydrates such as sweets, chocolates and chips.
  • Poor fibre intake
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Irregular toilet routine, ‘holding on’ too long

Be cautious when it comes to making changes as too many changes all at once can upset your child’s stomach .

Foods that help with constipation

1. Fibre

Fibre is important for healthy bowels. It absorbs water as it travels through the digestive system and helps to make stools softer and bulkier. Fibre is found mainly in fruit, vegetables, pulses (such as beans and lentils), whole-grain cereals and breads. Include one high fibre starchy food with each meal.  If you followed a low fibre diet before, you need to gradually introduce high fibre items to avoid bloating and discomfort. Choose from the list below

  • Weetbix, Nutrifix, All-bran Flakes, Jungle Oats,  Muesli
  • High fibre white bread, Brown bread, Whole-wheat bread, Provitas
  • Rice, Pasta, Potatoes, Sweet potatoes (keep the skin on)

Be sure to encourage water after meals, as increasing fibre without increasing liquids can have the reverse effect.

Options for healthy snacks

  • 1 fruit (fresh or dried)
  • Raw vegetable sticks
  • 1 bowl of popcorn (age dependant- choking hazard)
  • ½ cup fruit yoghurt
  • 1-2 slices brown bread with peanut butter or cheese or marmite
  • Handful peanuts and raisins or mixed nuts
  • 2 wholewheat or muesli rusks
  • 1 bran muffin

2. Include dried beans, pulses and legumes twice a week

    • Lentils can be mixed with white rice to increase the fibre content
    • Dried or canned beans can replace ½ of protein portion e.g. mix mince with beans
    • Try baked beans on toast with cheese as a small meal
    • Include 3-bean salad or baked bean salad with the main meal

    3. Aim for 5 a day

    • Add vegetables to soups, pastas, casseroles, meatballs, pizzas etc.
      Include more pulses e.g. baked beans on toast, lentils or beans added to casseroles, soups, salads etc.
    • Add chopped, dried or stewed fruit to desserts and breakfast cereals e.g. rice pudding, jelly, porridge etc.
    • Offer chopped fruits and vegetables as snacks
    • Liven up meals and lunch boxes using a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables.

    4. Regular exercise and activity

    Children may become constipated because they are ‘picky eaters’ or eat irregularly. Snacking all day can result in poor intake at main meals. This can lead to constipation because a full tummy encourages bowel movement.

    If this is the case, limit snacks and drinks between meals to encourage an appetite for main meals. This can be difficult at first if your child is used to lots of snacks and drinks but it is important to persevere.

    5. Regular toileting routine

    Small children often forget to go to the toilet or would rather be playing than making time to go to the toilet. This ’holding on’ can easily lead to constipation.
    Children may withhold stools intentionally because of pain caused by hard stools. The longer stools remain in the bowel the harder they become to pass. This can make the constipation harder to resolve.

    Teach your child good habits by having a set routine and reminding them to visit the toilet regularly. After a meal is the best time.

    Here at Dietitian Fit, we help to identify the problem areas in your child’s diet and develop an individualized plan for your child to ensure that they are meeting their nutritional requirements to ensure age appropriate growth and development.

    Written by Jenaed Brodell , Paediatric Dietitian, Paediatric Nutritionist (RD)