Most of us are aware that a healthy diet, adequate fluid intake, an active lifestyle and correct toilet habits can reduce the chances of constipation. Infants on solids can be particularly vulnerable to this condition, and many parents are surprised by the sudden pellet-like appearance of their bub’s poo when they start on solids . In young children, toilet training can also be followed by bouts of constipation.
Constipation is when one experiences difficulty in passing faeces. Often it is associated with hard, dry stools and can be accompanied by discomfort or pain. Yes, it’s upsetting for everyone concerned.
Part of our fluid intake each day comes from the fluid in food. However, if there is a lack of fluid intake (or a drop in fluid levels) in the body, the intestinal canal can ‘wring’ out even more fluid than usual, leaving dry, compacted faecal matter.
Poo should be formed, soft and easily passed. Keep in mind that we all ‘beat to the tune of our own drum’ and children are no different. Some children poo once every two or so days, others every day, some two to three times a day – whatever is usual for your child should be your benchmark. So it is important to be aware of any changes. A little one who poos daily and then suddenly doesn’t go for days may well be constipated.
But also remember that constipation is signalled by more than just frequency. Other signs of constipation include:
In young children, persistent constipation can cause runny poo to leak into their underpants; this is termed ‘soiling’.
Constipation can be caused by a few things; even weaning and early potty training can be a reason. The common causes of constipation include:
Of course, prevention is always better than the cure.
Breastfed babies tend to suffer from constipation far less than those consuming formula. If you sense that your baby (who is not yet on solids) is experiencing constipation without an apparent reason, consult your GP or child health nurse as soon as possible.
Of course, hotter weather can be an issue. If you are wondering about offering baby (who is not yet on solids) some water, check with your child health nurse first.
It is difficult to offer a definitive guide on how much a bub will drink; it can depend on whether they are breast or formula-fed, how often they feed, what types of solids they consume, the temperature, and more. Regularly offering your little one water is the best way forward; it’s also worth remembering that little ones don’t have a great thirst reflex until after 12 months of age, some even later.
For more on why juice is not recommended in infancy or early childhood, see our tip sheet on juices .
Offering baby a fruit juice to help with constipation is not advisable and can be more of a hindrance. Any changes experienced as a consequence of juice tend to be counter-productive to nutrition. Likewise the addition of sugar or similar is not ideal for baby.
Sipper cups can be introduced around the time of solids. Use clean water and encourage bub to drink a little water around eating times. Just a few sips can make a big difference. Even if baby takes a while to adjust to the taste of water, gently persist; without making a fuss it will eventually click.
A similar picture presents with regard to children. We can look at the following areas:
Not all fibre is the same; some will increase the passage of stools through the intestines whereby others tend to slow it. Figure 1 highlights the known effects of different fibre and their sources.
Figure 1 Types, sources and actions of dietary fibre
|Type of fibre||Sources||Action|
|Soluble||Pectins, gums and mucilage
(Oat products, legumes, vegetables and fruit - tends to be gel-forming with fluid)
|Absorbs dietary fat
Regulates blood sugar by reducing the glycaemic index of foods eaten with it
Feeds healthy bowel bacteria
|Insoluble||Cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin
(Whole grains, bran cereals, vegetables and fruit - once called roughage due to its coarse texture)
Speeds bowel transit time
Cleans away old bowel cells and built-up waste material.
Reduces risk of colon cancer
Not all starch is digested and absorbed. Some starch, termed resistant starch (RS), passes undigested through the small intestine to the large intestine where it can be fermented by bacteria in our intestines. RS has known benefits such as glucose and insulin control and colon health. Foods that contain RS include: grains (excluding rice) and foods made from whole grains such as wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals, bananas, potatoes and legumes.
Mild constipation will generally resolve itself by one or more of the above suggestions. If, however, the problem persists, seek medical advice about clearing the accumulating stools and further prevention.
IF YOU ARE UNSURE OR SYMPTOMS PERSIST SEE YOUR MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL
Children should always be supervised when given nuts and seeds due to risk of choking.
This information has been provided by Leanne Cooper from Sneakys baby and child nutrition. Leanne is a qualified nutritionist and mother of two very active boys.