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Constipation in Children
Constipation usually means difficulty in passing a stool; decreased frequency in the opening of the bowels or the passage of hard, dry stools. Constipation is a common childhood problem.
The signs that a child may be constipated include:
pain and tension when you go to the toilet. Hard stool can tear the lining of the anus leading to more pain and bleeding.
- diarrhea or dirt. When the bowel is blocked, as in constipation, the body tries to pass a bowel movement by becoming flushed and bypassing the blocked area. The child may have marks on their underwear or soil themselves when they do physical exercise. Constipation can also lead to a lack of sensitivity in the muscle of the anus itself so that the feeling of needing to go to the toilet is lost.
- stomach or abdominal aches and pains.
- other problems such as headaches, skin problems, poor concentration, muscle pains, bad breath and fatigue. These are all related to the reabsorption of toxins from the intestine and their retention in general circulation.
What are the causes of constipation?
The most common cause of constipation is a diet high in processed foods and low in raw foods. However, these are not the only causes. Other causes include the following.
Not drinking enough fluids.
- Food allergies or intolerance. Allergies are often related to cereals and dairy products.
- Eating too many wheat-based products, such as bread and pasta.
- An imbalance in the gastrointestinal bacteria. A fresh course of antibiotics or a diet that contains a lot of processed foods and sugars can lead to an imbalance of the intestinal flora.
- Children who are too engrossed in what they are doing will sometimes ignore the urge to go to the toilet, allowing the motion to become dry and difficult to pass.
- Ferrous sulfate is added to some foods such as rice cereals, formulas and drinks such as Milo. In children who are sensitive to this, it can lead to constipation.
- Stress and anxiety. Like adults, children’s digestive tracts contract during stress. This can cause the bowel movement to pass too quickly (causing diarrhea) or too slowly, causing too much fluid to be absorbed, resulting in constipation.
- Insufficient exercise. Exercise is necessary to activate the muscles of the digestive tract and move the waste material through the intestines.
What can you do about constipation?
You have to deal with the existing problem, that is clear the bowel of hard bowel movements, and then work to prevent the situation from recurring. What you can do:
Massage to encourage movement through the large intestine. Have the child lie on his back and knees up. With warm hands apply gentle pressure. Start from the lower right abdomen, work your way up to the ribcage, then across the stomach and down the left side. This is roughly the direction of the bowel and is useful for stimulating the muscles to move hard stools.
- Use juices to help the bowels. The juices can include plum, apple and lemon. Spinach, watercress and dandelion leaves can be added to milder juices such as carrot, cucumber, beet and celery. These can be used in small amounts or diluted.
- Increase the consumption of fiber-rich foods. These include vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and at the same time reduce the consumption of sweets, chocolate, cakes, bread and white rice. Don’t overdo the nuts though, as this can actually be constipating.
- Eat meals at a regular time so that the bowel can get used to certain times.
- Increase the amount of water your child drinks. Children need to drink 6 to 8 glasses a day. Using milk, milk products and soft drinks can cause further problems, so use filtered water and fresh natural juices as much as possible.
- Encourage plenty of physical activity.
- Increase the number of friendly bacteria in the gut through the use of probiotics.
- Remind children to go to the toilet.
- Change the child’s position when they go to the toilet. Place a small stool in front of the toilet so they can have their feet on it and this will raise their knees and change the angle of their hips. This will put the child in a position that requires less pushing.. Hiding is the ideal position for all people when defecating.
- Eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods. Magnesium is important for muscle contraction and a lack of magnesium can cause constipation. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, whole grains and beans.
- Add some psyllium seeds to the diet. For children who are prone to constipation, a daily supply of psyllium seeds can help. This is a fiber that helps regulate the activity of the intestine. When mixed with water or diluted juices they can create larger and softer stools. To work effectively, the seeds need to absorb water, so the child needs to drink a lot of fluids. The dose for children from 3 years of age is 1 teaspoon twice daily added to diluted juice.
- Talk to your child about any problems or stresses they might be having. Voicing concerns and getting reassurance can go a long way in reducing stresses that can cause or contribute to constipation.
You will need to see a health professional if the constipation is difficult to relieve, if it is associated with a lot of pain or blood or if the child is doing all the right things and the problem still exists. Your healthcare professional will consider the possibility of allergy issues and should investigate this further.
Brewin, L. 2002, Natural Health for Kids. ABC Books.
Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herb. Elementary Pub.
Romm, A. 2000, Naturally Healthy Babies and Children. Floor Books.
Smith, L., Walker, L. and Brown, E. 2002, Nature’s Pharmacy for Children. Three Rivers Press
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