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By Rachel Colchamiro and Cara D’Anello

constriptionBelieve it or not, constipation is a pretty popular topic of conversation among parents of young children—at least it was in my house when my kids were little!  It’s tough to know when things are normal or when things need some attention, especially because every child’s bathroom habits may be slightly different.

Most children may have 1 to 2 bowel movements a day while others may go 2 to 3 days before passing stool. As long as your child is healthy and having stools without discomfort, this may be their own normal pattern. However, it is important to know when your child isn’t having regular stools because this may be a sign of constipation.  Contact your child’s doctor if you have any concerns!

Here are a few red flags that could mean your child is constipated:

  • Many days without bowel movements
  • Poor appetite
  • Difficulty or pain passing hard stools
  • Stomach pain, nausea, cramping
  • Changes in mood, crankiness

What can cause constipation? There are many reasons, including not drinking enough fluids, eating too little fiber, holding in stool, and other situations like changes in routine, weather, illness, or stress. To help your child with the discomfort of constipation, try these tips:

  1. Drink enough water: Drinking plenty of fluids every day helps digestion. Children between the ages of 1 to 5 years old should generally drink 5-7 cups of water daily to stay hydrated.
  2. Get moving! Being active helps to keep bowel movements regular. Help your child be active for a total of 60 minutes daily. Even 10 minutes at a time can help!
  3. Bump up the fiber: Fiber helps keep things moving in the digestive tract. Eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and choosing whole grain foods will help your child get enough fiber.

Are you wondering how to increase dietary fiber? It’s easier than you think!

  1. Add a serving of fruits or vegetables to every meal:
  • Add berries to whole grain cereal and oatmeal
  • Add cucumbers or leafy greens to a sandwich
  • Add strips of zucchini to pasta or grated cauliflower to rice dishes
  • Try a new vegetable or fruit every week
  • Serve fruits and veggies as snacks. Keep bite-sized portions available in plastic bags or containers for easy serving.
  1. Choose whole grain products:
  • Season brown rice with lemon juice and garlic powder for a quick and tasty side to your meal
  • Serve whole wheat pasta with your favorite sauce and vegetables
  • Try different whole grain cereals for a quick snack
  1. Increase fiber slowly:
    • Sometimes increasing fiber takes a little getting used to. Add fiber to your child’s diet a little at a time to prevent discomfort.

Making these changes will not only help prevent constipation, but they are also an important part of a healthy, happy lifestyle for everyone!  And maybe you’ll be able to move on to more pleasant topics of conversation!

Cara D’Anello is a dietetic intern at Tufts University. 

 

 

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DIrector, Massachusetts WIC Program

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