Do you notice your child putting off going to the bathroom because he/she is busy doing more important things? Do you notice avoidance of the bathroom for fear of a painful bowel movement? Is your child not experiencing daily bowel movements? All of these situation may be signals that your child is experiencing childhood constipation.
Parents often hope their worries about their children’s bathroom habits will end with the final diaper. But successful toilet training doesn’t prevent occasional concerns with bowel movements. Constipation is among the most common concern, but should never be considered normal.
Unfortunately most of the medical literature defines childhood constipation not as the frequency of bowel movements but the hardness of the stool. According to the Physicians’ Manual for Patients, “Daily bowel movements are not essential to health.” Parents are told that as long as the child is having three bowel movements a week and they are soft that this is totally normal. Not so! Just as we eat three meals per day, a child should be experiencing between 1 to 3 bowel movements per day. Food should never be sitting in the digestive track longer than 24 hours. Ideally, everyone should have comfortable, unforced bowel movements 20-30 minutes after every meal.
Because the discussion of bowel movements between child and parent usually brings out total dread in parents, it is often ignored and assumed that the child is experiencing bowel movements each day. Many of us remember cringing when a grandparent asked us “Have you had a bowel movement today?” The cringe was not necessarily because of the question but because it was seemingly asked at what we would consider an inappropriate time! You see, in the generation of our grandparents and great grandparents, bowel health was considered a very important function for good health. Somewhere along the line we have stopped looking at bowel habits as an important clue in overall health. Digestive track health is considered by many natural health practitioners to be the most important function in keeping the body healthy.
Causes Of Childhood Constipation
Diet & Nutrition – Not eating enough foods with fiber; Dehydration; Consuming a lot of sugar and desserts; Gluten sensitivity; Milk and dairy products; Food Allergies; Acid forming foods (meat).
Lack of Exercise – With the popularity of computer games and TV many children lead a very sedentary lifestyle.
Emotion Upsets & Anxiety – Fear, grief, worry and frustration have all been known to affect the digestive tract.
Holding stools – This means the child has the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement, but ignores the urge. Reasons such as not wanting to take the time to go to the bathroom, unfamiliar bathrooms or pain in passing a stool are very common.
Medications – Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Temaril or Benadryl), found in nonprescription cold medications; Antidiarrheal medications; Antispasmodics, such as atropine and scopolamine; Narcotics, such as codeine and hydrocodone; Chemotherapy; Anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine and valproic acid; pain relievers; Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline hydrochloride or doxepin hydrochloride; Iron supplements.
Other less common causes of constipation are depression, attention deficit disorders, and sexual abuse.
Childhood Constipation Symptoms
- Less than 1 bowel movement per day.
- Stools that are hard and difficult to pass.
- Headaches, fatigue and/or depression.
- Encopresis, or accidental fecal soiling. Often if a hard stool is present in the rectum, liquid feces can leak around the hard stool and pass out the anus without the child’s control. This can happen many times during the day. The child cannot do anything to prevent or withhold it.
- Abdominal pain near or around the navel.
- Decreased appetite and nausea.
How to Prevent Childhood Constipation
Diet—The most important thing is to increase fluid intake. However, some children get into the habit of only drinking sodas or sugary drinks to satisfy their thirst. Many children become dehydrated from sugary drinks and from not taking the time out to quench thirst with purified water. A child should be drinking half of his/her body weight in water each day. Include servings of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables. Teach your child to eat raw as much as possible. Make 50% of each meal fresh, raw, unprocessed foods. Include nuts and seeds in the diet. Limit white flour, chocolate, refined sugar and grocery store dairy products. Train your child to eat slowly and moderately. Provide a relaxing environment while eating. Take a probiotic supplement daily to facilitate the growth of “friendly bacteria” in the colon.
Bowel habit training—Your child should be taught not to wait to have a bowel movement. To establish a regular bowel habit, ask your child to sit on the toilet for at least 10 minutes at about the same time each day, preferably after a meal. Make sure your child can place his or her feet firmly on the floor while sitting on the toilet. If this is not possible, put a footstool in front of the toilet. While your child is sitting on the toilet, you might let your child read a storybook or listen to the radio. Educate your child, at an early age, on the importance of good bowel habits. Let them know that this is not something to be embarrassed about, but instead a normal and very necessary function for good health.
Exercise—Make sure that your child is getting enough exercise. Children often spend too much sedentary time in front of computers and TV. Encourage outside activities as much as possible. Physical activity speeds the movement of waste through the digestive tract and helps the lymph system to drain.
Stress—Yes, children experience stress! Children are some of the busiest people I know. Stress causes the body to break down and constipation can be a result. Talk with and spend time with your children. Teach them how to relax and to be calm. Encourage them, support them and speak encouraging words to them. Teach them how to handle difficult situations, to be happy and to communicate their concerns. Most important—model this behavior in front of them.
Keep The Bowel Clean—Keeping the bowel clean is a great preventative step and very necessary in keeping the body in good health. A safe and effective oxygen colon cleansing product is a natural way to cleanse the whole digestive track while also providing the body with oxygen. Consult your healthcare practitioner for dosages appropriate for children.
Chiropractic Adjustments – Helps prompt bowel movements. Peristaltic action that moves material through the colon occurs as a result of nerve excitement that originates at the spinal nerves. Adjustments also help normalize the action of the ileocecal valve, the valve that separates the large from the small intestine.
Constipation can undermine the whole body, including the immune system, and it is now known that irregular bowel movements can be directly related to serious health conditions. Constipation does not have to be a concern if you will practice prevention with your children and implement the suggestions found in this article. Regular bowel movements are an important mechanism for removing toxins from the body and thus keeping the body healthy. Remember: Prevention is always the key to good health and wellness. As always, if severe symptoms persist, do not hesitate to see your trusted healthcare professional.