Bowel patterns differ from child to child, but on average your child should be having a painless, soft, bowel movement every day to every other day. Bowel movements should never be hard or painful. If that's the case, your child could be constipated. Now, depending on your child's age, the days in between bowel movements may vary. For example, an exclusively breast-fed infant older than 1 month of age may go up to one week without a bowel movement – breast milk is absorbed really well so there isn't much left to come out. As a medical professional I wouldn't be concerned if an infant goes seven days in between bowel movements as long as he or she is otherwise doing well and as long as it's soft. So, what are some other signs that your child could be suffering from constipation? Here are a few examples:
- A newborn with hard bowel movements or less frequently than once per day, although sometimes this is completely normal in an exclusively breast-fed infant (see above)
- In older children, bowel movements that are compact, hard and three to four days apart
- In any age, bowel movements that are hard, large, dry and painful
- Experiences of abdominal pain that are relieved when having a large bowel movement
- Bowel movements so large they clog the toilet
- Blood mixed into or outside of bowel movements
- Soiling of underwear in between bowel movements
The best way to treat constipation is to prevent it from happening in the first place. A healthy diet, staying hydrated and daily, physical activity will all help make this possible. Make sure your child's diet is rich in fruits and vegetables. Avoid consuming heavy, fatty foods often – like pizza and mac 'n' cheese to name a couple.
If it's too late for prevention and it seems your child is constipated, then really pushing foods that are high in fiber may help. For example, encouraging your child to eat those fruits that begin with P: peaches, pears, and plums are very effective in helping your child have a bowel movement. Apples, with the skin on, are also great. There's actually truth behind the “apple a day” adage after all.
Not only is what your child eats important, but the timing of when he or she eats it is important as well. For example, if your child wants to have a slice of pizza or a bowl of mac 'n' cheese, pairing it with a big green salad and an apple as dessert will help prevent them from getting constipated. You can think of the apple and salad as helping push the other “heavier” food along. Make sure your child is hydrated and drinking enough water each day. All of that good fiber needs water, if not, constipation can worsen. Finally, at least 30 minutes of daily, physical activity, can help constipation. Whether that's a game of basketball or a leisurely hike on our local trails, getting your child moving will help get those bowels moving likewise.
Well, that's my "scoop" on poop. In conclusion, many children suffer from mild constipation, but that can usually be fixed with diet modification. If a change in diet and exercise aren't helping, and you have any other concerns or questions specific to your child, contact us here at ABC Pediatrics. We are here to help and we would be happy to see you!
If you'd like to watch a short video about what we'll likely discuss at your child's appointment, click here.
*Information presented adapted from Healthy Children.org “Constipation” www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/abdominal/Pages/Constipation