Constipation and children
Constipation in children
Constipation in children is more common than you might think – it is a condition that causes unhappiness and discomfort for the child and family. Hopefully understanding some of the signs and being aware of some advice to help alleviate the problems and will provide confidence and reassurance. It is important to know that you can tell your parents that they are not alone. If you have any reason that you think any children in your care child may be constipated, do not be afraid to seek help.
Constipation is caused by a variety of factors, some of these may be nutritional:
- Too little dietary fibre and fluid
- Too much milk in the diet
- Overfeeding in infancy
Other factors that may cause constipation are: the child ignoring the urge to go to the toilet or lack of exercise.
Potty training is a big milestone in a child’s life and it is important to get it right, as when mistimed or mismanaged it may cause constipation. Ensuring that children are eating a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fluids (preferably water) will help. Talk to parents about being aware of signs that children are ready; it is not something to be rushed. Explain the importance of a regular routine: a few minutes on the potty after a meal, then have fun washing hands. Make the point with parents that although difficult sometimes, they must try not to make a fuss about accidents; try and always be positive.
Some signs of a child being constipated are
- No bowel movement for three or more days
- Lots of hard stools being passed
- Using avoidance techniques, such as dancing around or hiding
- A generally unhappy child with little energy
Soiling is when a child is constipated, and their bowels are very full, but they cannot go to the toilet. They may have little ‘dribbles’ these will be noticed in the child’s pants, night clothes or bedding. These are accidents and the child is not being naughty – it is sign that help must be sought.
It is important that children are drinking sufficient fluids - Toddlers should ideally have around 6 – 8 drinks every day, each drink being around 3 – 4 fl.oz. Water is the best drink – try to encourage toddlers to drink more of it at meal times and in between. Diluted fruit juice may be given at meal times, however this contains unnecessary sugar, and one glass only counts as one of our 5 a day. Milk should be limited to max 120mls a day as any more limits the ability to consume foods containing dietary fibre.
When talking to parents explain the importance of encouraging their child to eat the same as them, which is hopefully, healthily! Interaction at meal times is really important so try to push the point that meals should be eaten together around a table and without the telly! At nursery these rules must be followed too and it is important that childcare workers sit down at meal times and eat with the children and provide a family atmosphere.
In order to ensure adequate fibre is being eaten, present the children in your care with a variety of fruit and vegetables as well as cereals. Each meal and snack should be of a nutritious quality rather than quantity (fruit and vegetables rather than crisps and sweets). Remember that the more fibre is eaten, the more fluid (water) needs to be consumed.
Physical exercise is another great way to try and get children’s bowels moving – encourage parents to take their children to the park, go to soft play or walk to the shops. When the children are in your care, you can play games to encourage activity and if you have a garden try and get them playing on bikes, play equipment and be generally active.
Being aware that a child is constipated is not a trivial matter and is not just a matter of increasing fibre in the diet. The child may well be in pain and discomfort and it is important to seek professional help so they can start on a road to free bowels. This may mean laxatives will be prescribed – but don’t worry this is normal and important for the child to begin having regular movements.