By Vaishali Sudan Sharma
Constipation is a very very common problem in children. Whether it’s something temporary after an illness or introduction to new foods or perhaps a post-travel tummy trauma, According to Harvard Medical School, “Up to 20% of children suffer from it at one time or another.” As a mum, I feel like tummy issues, such as puke, poop and everything in between are the most common issues a parent is surrounded by. Least to say it makes people uncomfortable. Having said this, mums also go to an extent to Google the ‘poop color’ of a newborn to see if they have anything to worry about!
Child constipation symptoms:
Babies and some children can’t communicate how they feel, so you need to pay attention to their bowel movements to recognize irregularity. Just as each baby (and child) is unique, so is their tummy-issue. In babies, poop texture and consistency varies, depending on whether they are breastfed or formula-fed. Likewise, constipation plays out differently in different kids. You should also look for other constipation symptoms that can occur such as:
(i) Pooping > 3 times a week
(ii) Tight and hard poops, difficult
(iii) Poops that are large-ish in size (large enough to block the toilet)
(iv) Holding in stool, leading to large lumps of stool in the rectum
(v) Leakage of poops
Don't be worried if your little one is showing constipation symptoms -- it's perfectly normal once in a while. According to Dr. Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, “The last one mentioned in the above list can confuse parents. How can leakage be anything but constipation? Actually, this condition is pretty bad. What happens is that the hard stool blocking the rectum becomes large chunks which becomes rough and dry and causes the rectum to stretch out. This also happens if the child is distracted and ignores the sign if wanting to ease off the pressure. The stretched rectum causes the looser stool to leak around those chunks, and the stretching makes the nerves of the rectum work less effectively.”
Make sure the potty training process regulates your child’s stool time and ensure at the onset that the child sits on the toilet regularly.
So, what should you do if your child is constipated?
1. Diet rich in fibre
A growing child’s best friends are rainbow fruits and veggies. At least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day is what any doctor or healthcare associate recommends. Avoiding overdose of Iron present in green leafy veggies (or combine it with Calcium), and encourage the consumption of whole grains. Cereals with bran can help, as can prune or prune juice.
Atleast 8 glasses of water is what doctors usually recommend. If the water intake is low, the body’s colon will make the hard stool even harder (well, that’s the job of Colo anyway- to take water out of stool). Some kids usually get bloated or gassy after the consumption of milk. In some children, dairy is also responsible for constipation (those who are sensitive to the proteins found in cow's milk). So, hydrate your child with water.
3. Watch their milk intake
Just not for the above reason, but also because milk is heavy on the gut. It can make your child feel full and less hungry for other foods like fruits and vegetables. Kids from 1 to 8 should have about 2 milk cups a day, and older kids about 3 cups or 2 cups with other dairy substitutes such as cheese, yogurt should serve the purpose for those growing bones. For children who are lactose tolerant, finger millet (aka ragi) can be an ideal solution. This humble millet is rich in Calcium. Try out adding ragi malt to milk or make dosas out of them!
4. If this doesn’t work, try medications
Speak to your pediatrician if the stool is hard and the child is uncomfortable. He may advise laxatives.
Please don’t ignore these sever signs and check with your child’s pediatrician if the magnitude of the problem is severe:
(i) Severe pain with stooling
(ii) Blood in the stool
(iii) Weight loss, or a noticeable drop in appetite
(iv) Vomiting or nausea
(v) Inability to digest water or any other fluids
(vi) A high-grade fever along with the constipation