Children between 1 and 5 years of age are called toddlers. Long term child constipation in that critical stage can hamper his physical, mental, emotional and social development, if not identified and treated effectively and safely.
This is the time children undergo considerable change – physical as well as mental. Some of the major activities they learn:
- Learn to walk, run, jump etc.
- Control major and minor muscles
- Learn toilet manners
- Move with other children
- Start going to school.
Their moods also can change fast. All children are not same. While some go to toilet promptly every day at the same time, others may go without stool for days. You need not panic if your child has no bowel movement for a day or two. Constipation in toddlers is not a serious disease. You need to find out the underlying cause.
Toddler constipation - causes
- Dehydration: Shortage of water in the body is a major reason for constipation in children of any age as well as in adults. Not only constipation, not drinking enough water is the origin of many other health problems.
It is a fact that many existing health problems slowly disappear once your child start drinking proper quantity of water appropriate for his age. How less water causes constipation? All about water and its importance is given in Related Topics at the end of this page.
- Diet modifications: This is the stage when your child’s diet changes from specially prepared solid food to regular food like adults. You may start non-veg food too. The toddler’s digestive system needs some time to adjust to the diet changes.
- Low fiber diet: If non-veg forms a major part of your child’s diet, watch out. All non-veg food has zero fiber. Other low fiber foods are - dishes prepared from polished grains like white rice, polished wheat and other polished grains and pulses. Low fiber diet is another major cause for your toddler constipation.
- Junk food: This is the age your child gets addicted to junk food - bakery foods, ice cream, chocolates, pizza and other fast foods. These are very habit forming and can become a major portion of his diet. Media advertising of these items adds to the problem.
These foods are low in nutrition, low in fiber and filled with empty calories. A child addicted to this type of food can’t consume much regular food.
- Toilet training: Resisting anything new is a human tendency. Your child is no different. If he really resents your efforts to train him, he shows this by refusing to go to toilet. He forcibly holds it. It can become a habit during a course of time and he fails to notice the urge.
- Stool holding during playtime: Children don’t like to get disturbed during play and hold the urge to pass stool – a common reason for toddler constipation.
- Painful evacuations: Once the child is constipated, his stool gets dry and hard. The child finds it difficult to expel. He experiences pain and in more severe cases, skin rupture at the anus. The child gets scared by the thought of evacuation. To escape from pain, he holds the stool.
- School: This is the age that children get admitted into the school. If your child is afraid of the teachers he may hold the stool. New environment, toilets that are different from what he uses at home and unclean toilets can make the child hold the stool, which can convert into constipation.
- Insufficient physical activity: Your child may not be physically very active. Children addicted to watching TV and computers become physically inactive.
- Medications: If your child is being treated for any health problems, certain medications can cause constipation.
Once you identify the underlying reason/reasons for your child’s constipation, half the battle is won.
- Make sure that your child drinks his daily requirement of water. Many mothers don’t encourage children drinking water. They feel that if the child drinks water, his normal food intake decreases and his growth gets hampered.
A wrong impression. The child never drinks more water than required. Water has a unique place in the functioning of the body. Other fluids such as milk, fruit juice or any other health drink can’t be substituted for water.
- When you change your child’s diet, introduce the change gradually. A sudden change will upset his digestive system.
- Make sure of enough fiber in your child’s diet. Give him foods made out of whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat and pulses with outer layer. Non-veg has zero fiber. If his diet has considerable amount of von-veg, it can be one of the causes of constipation.
Introduce extra fiber into his diet through high fiber foods - flax seeds powder, pureed prunes, whole wheat bread etc.
Discourage him from eating junk food and bakery items, ice creams, packaged juices etc. This is frequent cause for toddler constipation.
- Be patient during his toilet training. Instead of forcing, make him aware of the benefits of regular bowel movement. The more tolerant you are, the faster he gets used to it.
- Awareness to the problems associated with ‘stool holding’ will make him come out of the habit.
- If your child is having hard stool and experiencing pain during evacuation, use stool softeners. They are less habit forming than laxatives. Use stool softeners or laxatives only as short term solution.
- If your child just started going to school, see if he is afraid of something. If the toilets at the school are different or less hygienic, you need to prepare him accordingly.
- Make sure your child has enough physical activity – a minimum of an hour’s active play per day will keep his bowel movement healthy.
- If the child is taking any medicines, ask the doctor if any of the medicines can cause constipation. If so, he will suggest an alternative.
- Constipation in children - How to deal with child constipation?
- Constipation in infants - Symptoms, Causes and Best Ways to Manage.
- What are the benefits of drinking water?
- Importance of drinking water.
- How much water to drink? The right quantity for different age groups.