Constipation in babies and children – What it is and how to treat it!
Symptoms of constipation can be confusing as they can vary from child to child and some may be more dominant than others. It is also difficult to identify constipation in babies and toddlers as they don’t always have the ability to tell you how they feel.
Bowel movements vary greatly with age, for example it can be normal for some babies who are breastfed not to have a bowel motion for up to five days or a week. It can also be normal for a bottle fed baby to have a motion several times in one day! Sometimes it takes a little bit of mother’s intuition to decipher what is normal for your baby and whether or not they are comfortable or struggling a little. Always consult with your pharmacist or GP if you have any concerns at all.
For toddlers and children it may be normal to pass stools every few days but if stools become hard, difficult to pass or are happening less than three days apart it is reasonable to assume constipation may be a factor. In general, symptoms of constipation include:
- Infrequent bowel activity
- Foul smelling wind/stools
- Irregular stool texture
- Passing large stools occasionally or small pellets frequently
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Poor appetite
- Fear of passing stools to the point of holding them in.
- Painful passing of stools
- Irritable, unhappy, lacking in energy
See the doctor if:
- Significant abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Bloody diarrhoea
Before going to the GP record:
- Frequency of bowel movements
- Size and consistency
- Pain or blood
- How long it has been going on
- Faecal soiling
- Any medications child is taking
When addressing constipation in your child remember your child may not want to talk about it and they may feel that if they don’t tell you about it that it will go away. Plenty of reassurance is needed, especially in toddlers. Another thing to bear in mind is that a child may have other concerns which are affecting them such as a dislike of using the toilet in a crèche environment, or avoidance of the urge as they are too immersed in play. It’s important to spot this type of behaviour and to promote using the bathroom regularly to prevent constipation occurring.
It is a good idea to try and get a toilet trained toddler or child to sit on the potty or toilet for ten minutes or so after a meal if they have been having difficulties as this is the most likely time that they will need to go. Then if they do manage a bowel motion then give them lots of encouragement and perhaps even a little treat!
For babies and children over six months it is important to provide a balanced diet – children have no choice in the food they feed themselves so the onus is totally on us as parents to provide them with the varied and balanced diet they deserve… despite their demands for nothing other than marshmallows which is a battle myself and my three year old are still in the middle of….I’m hoping to win…but she’s putting up a good side! It doesn’t even have to be overly high in fibre, just well balanced with lots of fresh fruit and veg. I find smoothies and homemade fruit pots the easiest way around this! Giving snacks like little packs of raisins is also good. If they are quite bloated or showing signs of constipation then try to introduce some prune juice, or my girls love the packets of prunes that are available in Tesco. Also try to eliminate sweets and desserts from their diet at that time as sugar can aggravate the digestive tract and worsen constipation. And finally one of the best ways to treat constipation naturally is to increase water and fluid intake.
For babies under six months it’s helpful to give warm baths and then use a baby oil to massage them gently afterwards. When massaging their tummies be extremely gentle and always massage in a clockwise motion as this helps the bowels. You can also try laying them on their backs and gently moving their legs in a cycling motion to try to stimulate movement in the bowel. All of these activities also help with wind and colic so are useful to know anyway!
If your child suffers from regular or persistent constipation then visit the doctor. He may advise you to give laxose or duphalac solution to your child, or to use a glycerol suppository. Alternatively there are other prescription only medicines which are available to treat severe constipation. I always think that if your child is suffering from any digestive issue you should give them a course of the bio-kult infantis probiotic which I talk about it more detail on my blog ‘the pro’s of probiotics’
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like clarification on anything in this article by sending me a message on the facebook WonderBaba page or my phoning me at Milltown totalhealth Pharmacy on 012600262.