Constipation is not fun.
Whether it is a one off, occurs now and then or becomes an ongoing chronic issue.
We see constipation in infants, all the way through to teenagers. Whilsts popular, the medications for constipation do nothing to treat the route cause and can lead to further gut issues.
To be officially diagnosed with constipation, a child needs to fulfil at least 2 of the following criteria that have been ongoing for the last month in an infant and the last 2 months in an older child:
- Two or fewer bowel motions a week
- Signs of withholding
- A history of painful bowel motions or hard stools
- A history of very large stools
- A large stool mass in the rectum on imaging
And for those who have been toilet-trained
- At least one case per week of soiling their pants after becoming toilet-trained
What is a healthy bowel motion?
What we are looking for is a daily stool that is of a nice soft, formed consistency that comes out with ease. It is ideal that the bowel is completely emptied, rather than needing to go a little later to get the rest out. It is even better that the daily stool comes at a routine time of day, be it first thing in the morning or after a meal.
If you feel your child is a bit off the mark here, there are several really useful food strategies to incorporate into their daily diet.
Foods to help your child poop
The following foods are able to help restore healthy bowel motions by targeting one or more of the key areas involved in constipation:
- A lack of fibre to help bulk up the stool so that the digestive tract can sense the presence of a stool mass to push along
- Slower than optimal bowel motility that is co-ordinated by signals in the digestive tract to stimulate peristalsis or waves of muscle contractions to push things along
- A lack of a hydrated stool that becomes hard, dry and painful to pass
- An imbalance in gut bacteria that leads to poor digestion, slower bowel motility and less than optimal stool consistency
1. Dragon fruit
Dragon fruit is not easy to track down as a fresh fruit but it is readily available in the frozen fruit section of your supermarket. Dragon fruit is also available as a freeze-dried powder. The beneficial effects of dragon fruit is reported to be the same for all forms.
Dragon fruit contains oligosaccharides (DFOs), a type of carbohydrate, that preferentially feeds the good bugs that live in your gut- a special type of fibre called a prebiotic. Feeding these guys helps them do their jobs properly as mentioned above. It is additionally a lovely source of soluble fibre that helps bulk stools and keeps them soft and hydrated.
Dragon fruit has also been shown to increase muscle contraction in the bowel and speed up the time it takes for stools to move through the bowel.
A nice way to incorporate dragon fruit daily is in a smoothie or smoothie bowl alongside berries. Aim for about 50-100g per day. Alternatively, you could stew some dragon fruit with berries on the stove top to make a fruit syrup to pop on pancakes, yoghurt or a chia pudding.
If you are going to use the freeze-dried powder, add about 3-5g to yoghurt or almond milk and watch it turn a lovely red-purple colour.
2. Flax meal
Flax seeds are a great source of fibre. Flax meal, grounded flax seeds, is really effective in softening stools and reducing the time it takes for the stool to pass once on the toilet to provide both bulk and stool hydration, supporting both consistency and transit time. When the ground seeds are mixed with water they take on a mucilaginous texture- kind of sticky and gooey. This mucilage also has the benefit of addressing any inflammation in the bowels that may be hindering healthy signalling that coordinates bowel motility.
Add 1/2 – 1 tablespoon of flax meal to the dragon fruit smoothie or smoothie bowl as these two together tick all the boxes needed to support healthy bowel motions.
I would recommend the above ways to incorporate flax meal into the daily routine but her is another way- my Nutella bread.
3. Kiwi fruit
Kiwi fruit has long been seen as a very effective addition to the daily diet to get things moving along. The effective dose is 2 kiwis for an adult so for a child, aim for 1. If you can get your child to eat the skin, even better, as that is where a lot of the vitamin C is found. For constipation, just the flesh is fine- green or gold. Kiwi fruit has the capacity to swell to over three times its size so adds much needed bulk to stool and keeps the stool an easy to pass soft consistency.
4. Fennel seeds
Fennel seeds relax muscles in the intestine. This soothes the stomach and also helps to relieve gas. For constipation tip, soak 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds in 1 cup of hot water, allow to cool and then give 1ml per hour until there is a poop.
Prunes are a natural laxative due to its high fibre content and natural occurring sorbitol. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that goes largely undigested until it hits the large bowel. There it prompts the bowel to absorb water, helping to soften the stool and stimulating an easy to pass poop.
Stew prunes with some pears, another high-fibre poop-promoting fruit, on the stove top and add to some overnight oats for breakfast.
If things are not moving along in the right direction….
There is a lot that can be done to help a child experiencing constipation. There are number of factors that can be at play and it is highly recommended to book in today to work with us in getting to the bottom of your child’s constipation.