We all have issues with bowel movements every once in a while. But when pooping becomes highly irregular over a period of time, it’s a good sign of constipation. And the problem can be very frustrating if it’s happening to your child.
Constipation in children is a condition in which your child may have fewer than two bowel movements a week; stools that are hard, dry or lumpy; and stools that are difficult or painful to pass, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (1).
Children may also show other symptoms like abdominal pain, change in posture, more soiling accidents, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in behavior and feeling sick in general.
Children may suffer from different types of constipation, such as acute constipation, chronic constipation, functional constipation, idiopathic constipation and pseudo-obstruction.
A 2015 study published in Hippokratia reports that the most common type of constipation in children is functional, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of all cases (2).
Functional constipation is commonly the result of a child withholding feces to avoid painful defecation. Frequently, children with constipation also experience recurrent episodes of fecal incontinence, when feces leak out of the rectum due to an overflow caused by fecal impaction.
There can be several causes of constipation in children, including genetics, a low-fiber diet, intolerance to dairy or wheat or both, the habit of holding it in, not chewing food properly before swallowing, low water intake, low muscle tone, functional gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and emotional problems.
Some medications like antacids, narcotics and antidepressants have constipation as a side effect.
Constipation can cause extreme discomfort, and when neglected, it can become chronic and lead to other health problems like fecal incontinence, hemorrhoids, anal fissures and rectal prolapse. Also, constipation prevents toxins from leaving the body and may lead to weight gain over time.
It’s not easy for parents to see their child in pain and discomfort, but constipation in children is curable. There are many simple and effective remedies as well as lifestyle changes that can help prevent as well as treat constipation and help alleviate your child’s discomfort.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for constipation in children.
1. High-Fiber Foods
The very first thing that you can do to treat constipation in children is to increase your child’s fiber intake. Fiber is a natural laxative that helps soften stool and encourage regular bowel movements.
The recommended intake for dietary fiber is 14 grams for every 1,000 calories in your child’s diet.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of Pediatric and Gastroenterology Nutrition reports that lack of fiber may play an important role in the etiology of chronic idiopathic constipation in children (3).
In a 2012 meta-analysis published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers concluded that dietary fiber intake can increase stool frequency in patients with constipation (4).
In a review of several studies published in the Jornal de Pediatria in 2018, researchers reported that adequate fiber intake should only be recommended for functional constipation, and fiber supplementation should not be prescribed for constipated children and adolescents due to a scarcity of qualified studies to evaluate supplementation (5).
You can include foods rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber in your child’s diet.
- Some good sources of soluble fiber are oranges, apples, carrots, barley, oatmeal and flaxseeds.
- Some good sources of insoluble fiber are nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, unprocessed grains and dark leafy vegetables like kale or spinach.
2. Fluid Intake
Children tend not to think about drinking water in between playing, which can leave them dehydrated. Dehydration is one of the main causes of constipation in children.
Water is essential for the digestive system to function properly, and without enough water intake, stool becomes hard and difficult to pass.
A 2013 study published in the Malaysian Journal of Nutrition reports that insufficient intake of dietary fiber and fluids are associated with aggravated constipation symptoms (6).
Make sure that your child drinks water, fruit juices and other healthy drinks as much as possible during the day.
Plain water or lukewarm water with a little juice can help your child stay hydrated. If your child does not like the taste of water, try flavored water, coconut water, fruit juice or vegetable juice.
For babies below 6 months of age, breastfeeding is sufficient to keep them hydrated.
3. Stomach Massage
A stomach massage is very effective for relief from constipation.
Gently massaging your child’s stomach and lower abdomen stimulates bowel movements. It can help loosen the abdominal muscles and release the pressure, helping to promote bowel activity. It can even help relieve gas.
A 2007 study published in the British Journal of Learning Disabilities reports that abdominal massage appeared to result in stools of a more ‘normal’ consistency in some cases (7).
- Put some warm mustard oil or coconut oil on your child’s stomach.
- Gently massage in a clockwise direction for 5 minutes. Apply only very light pressure.
- Do several massages throughout the day, until your child has a bowel movement.
4. Warm Bath
A warm bath can soothe the tight muscles in the abdomen and ease bowel movements. It helps things move through the body more quickly and also brings relief from gas pain.
You can also add either baking soda or Epsom salt to the bathwater. Baking soda will provide relief from pain and itching if your child has an anal fissure. Epsom salt, being rich in magnesium, can also help deal with troublesome stools.
A 2017 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition reports that natural mineral water rich in magnesium and sulfate improved bowel movements in subjects with constipation (8).
- Fill a tub with lukewarm water, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking soda and mix well. Let your child sit in this water for 15 to 20 minutes, a few times a week.
- Alternatively, add 2 cups of Epsom salt to lukewarm bathwater. Have your child soak in it for about 20 minutes. Do this 1 or 2 times a week.
5. Regular Exercise
Be it an adult or a child, doing exercises daily can help aid digestion and relieve constipation.
Exercising regularly will help food move faster through the large intestine and help the bowel muscles contract, moving waste along.
On the other hand, lack of exercise leads to weakness in the intestines, making it hard to pass waste regularly.
A 2014 study published in PLOS ONE reports that constipation was associated with insufficient physical activity and excessive sedentary behaviors among Chinese adolescents with a dose-response relation. If the association is causal, constipation could be prevented by promotion of physical activity (9).
For children, one of the best exercises is walking. Aim for 30 minutes of walking a day, especially after meals, to help with bowel movements.
Swimming, bicycling or doing yoga on a regular basis can also help the intestines and stimulate bowel movements.
One of the best ways to deal with constipation in children is to offer prunes.
Prunes are high in fiber and sorbitol, which helps soften the stool and add bulk to it for easy passage.
A 2011 study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics reports that dried plums are safe, palatable and more effective than psyllium for treating mild to moderate constipation, and should be considered as a first-line therapy (10).
- Give your child 3 or 4 prunes to eat daily.
- Blend 2 or 3 prunes into some warm almond milk, and make your child drink it at night before going to bed.
7. Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds are also helpful in treating constipation in kids.
Fennel seeds encourage smooth muscle movement in the digestive tract, resulting in healthy digestion and regular bowel movements. Fennel seeds also prevent gas in children.
- Dry roast 1 cup of fennel seeds. Grind them and sieve the mixture. Store the powder in a jar. Give ½ teaspoon of this powder with warm water to your child daily.
- Alternatively, you can give your child fennel tea. Add 1 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds to 1 cup of hot water. Let it steep for 5 minutes, then strain it. Give your child this tea to drink a few times a day.
8. Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk is a natural laxative and can be used to treat constipation in kids as well as adults.
It is a rich source of soluble and insoluble fiber and helps increase the amount of water in the stools. As a result, the stool becomes softer and easier to pass.
- Mix ½ teaspoon of psyllium husk into a glass of warm water.
- Make your child drink it once daily before going to bed.
Psyllium husk is also available at most drugstores in the form of caplets. Always consult your doctor before giving your child any supplements.
Note: When giving psyllium husk to your child, make sure he drinks plenty of water, or else it may cause stomach discomfort.
9. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a natural laxative that helps treat infrequent bowel movements. The oil may also increase metabolism and help food pass more quickly through the body. This may mean more frequent and smaller, softer bowel movements.
Also, this healthy oil is rich in fats that are important for your child’s growth and development.
- For consumption: You can make your child swallow a spoonful of coconut oil or add it to your child’s milk, soup or any other warm beverage once daily.
- For topical use: You can apply a small amount of coconut oil to your child’s anus to help lubricate the passageway and encourage your child to poop. Do this once daily.
10. Healthy Bowel Habits
Establishing a regular toilet time can help prevent constipation in children. The human body works like a clock and maintaining a routine will help it fall into a rhythm. So, by encouraging your child to use the toilet first thing in the morning and after every meal or snack will help maintain regularity.
Make your child spend at least 30 minutes on the toilet, around 10 minutes after each meal, every day. They should be made to do that until it becomes a routine and you do not have to remind them.
Also, it is important to help small children sit in the right posture on the toilet. Give them a foot stool or step stool for supporting the legs.
When possible, help your child use squat toilets, as they are the best when experiencing constipation.
Keep telling your child not to hold back whenever there is an urge to use the bathroom.
- If your child is taking medication that causes constipation, ask your doctor about other options.
- Incorporating Greek yogurt or other probiotics into your child’s diet is another safe and effective way to fight constipation.
- Include raw fruit, a vegetable or salad in all of your child’s meals.
- When suffering from constipation, give your child five or six small meals throughout the day, instead of three large meals.
- Definition & Facts for Constipation in Children. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation-children/definition-facts. Published May 01, 2018.
- Constipation in Childhood. An update on evaluation and management. Hippokratia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4574579. Published 2015.
- Diet and chronic constipation in children: the role of fiber. Journal of Pediatric and Gastroenterology Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9932850. Published February 1999.
- Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23326148. Published December 28, 2012.
- Use of fibers in childhood constipation treatment: systematic review with meta-analysis. Jornal de Pediatria. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29474804.
- Stool patterns of Malaysian adults with functional constipation: association with diet and physical activity. Malaysian Journal of Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24800384. Published April 2013.
- Abdominal massage for the treatment of idiopathic constipation in children with profound learning disabilities: a single case study design. British Journal of Learning Disabilities. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-3156.2007.00472.x. Published October 29, 2007.
- Efficacy and safety of a natural mineral water rich in magnesium and sulphate for bowel function: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. European Journal of Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26582579. Published March 2017.
- Physical Activity and Constipation in Hong Kong Adolescents. PLOS ONE. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3938666. Published 2014.
- Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21323688. Published April 2011.