Diet plan for kids to avoid constipation
Tamara Corin looks into the best diet choices to help your little one avoid suffering with constipation.
Diet plays a huge role in preventing constipation and for this reason dieticians, GPs and health visitors recommend that children, like adults, have a diet rich in high-fibre foods. The body can't digest fibre so it passes straight through the digestive system.
This helps stools retain water, making them softer and easier to pass. To work out how much fibre a child over two years old should eat each day, add five to their age in years, so a five-year-old should eat ten grams of fibre.
If this is a great change from their current eating habits, make it gradually. Give some in every meal, and include a good variety – wholemeal bread, veg, pulses and fruit with the skin on; if everyone in the family eats the same food, your child won't think they're being forced into something no one else has to do.
It's also important to increase your child's intake of fluids – offer lots of water, milk or diluted fruit juice and aim for about two pints of liquid a day; this will also increase the water content of the stools.
However, don't let toddlers drink too much milk – that is, more than one pint per day – as it may fill them up so much that they don't feel hungry and don't want to eat much solid food. Then if they don't have enough bulky food in their bowels, they may not get the urge to poo.
Tips to keep your child's bowels healthy
Lifestyle changes can have a direct effect on your child's toilet habits. Moving house, changing schools or going on holiday may all seem like positive changes to us but, as every parent knows, children feed off routine so any alteration in their daily pattern can take them out of their comfort zone. Constipation is their body's way of literally holding on to the old. But of course life is full of changes so it's essential to stay ahead of the game and keep your child's bowels healthy.
1. Try to make sure your child never has to wait to do a poo.
2. Give your child ample opportunity to go to the toilet by setting aside time after breakfast or lunch when their bowels are most active.
3. Encourage your child into physical activity, whether it's the great outdoors or indoors at one of the ever popular soft play gyms! Any active play will increase your child's bowel movements.
4. Make sure your child sits on the toilet properly. Hunched bodies means the anal canal (the last little bit of the bowel) won't be straight and it will be more difficult for stools to pass through. Have a footstool for them to rest their feet on.
5. Keep a bunch of your child's favourite books in the bathroom so they can physically relax and their mind can be distracted while they concentrate on something other than doing a poo. And, odd though it may sound, blowing bubbles while on the toilet worked wonders in my house.
The right foods to help avoid constipation
Paediatric dietician Judy More suggests small steps to encourage healthier bowel habits.
Carrot batons are a great on-the move snack for little fingers. They're full of fibre, but your child should eat them raw, with a drink. Cooked carrots can sometimes lead to constipation.'
'Shake up their lunchbox and pack a pear rather than an apple. Pears are natural laxatives.'
Even small changes, such as wholemeal breads instead of white and a fibre-rich cereal such as bran flakes instead of cornflakes can make a significant difference to your child's toilet habits.'
'Introduce beans into your child's diet. There's a huge selection and they all have the same digestive benefits.
So think beyond the obvious can of baked beans and try cannelini beans in stews or a mixed bean salad.'
'High-sugar diets may increase the likelihood of constipation, so keep sweet treats to a minimum. Go for flavoured rice cakes or dried mango for a natural sweet fix with added nutritional benefits.'
Medication can cause constipation
Some medicines can cause constipation, including codeine, certain cough medicines, anticonvulsants (medicines to control epileptic seizures), antihistamines and iron supplements. If your child is on any of these treatments, pay extra attention to their diet and fill them up with the 'right' foods, washed down with lots of watery drinks.
Find out what may be the cause of constipation in your child