The first sign of constipation in toddlers is pain while moving the bowels. This pain is caused by stools that are either too large or too hard to pass out effortlessly. Hard stools don‘t have to be large to cause pain.
After experiencing pain, children commonly suppress and withhold stools, which is usually self-evident from observing their behavior. In turn, withheld stools dry out and harden up, making the next bowel movement even more painful. All other causes of a toddler‘s constipation are derivative from the moment of experiencing that first pain.
There is absolutely no way you can change your child‘s behavior or prevent constipation without first normalizing his or her stools, and eliminating any source pain. Bathroom training, behavior modification, diet change, and all other recommendations should come next.
Constipation can cause:
- Stomach cramps (the pain tends to come and go);
- Anal fissures;
- Your child to feel less hungry than usual;
- Hard lumps of poo might be felt when pressing the abdomen;
- Irritable behaviour;
- Holding-on behaviour to avoid doing a painful poo, such as squatting, crossing legs or refusing to sit on the toilet.
- Natural tendency – some children have slow gut movement which causes constipation. Most children with constipation have no serious cause found;
- Bowel habits – such as ignoring the urge to have a poo. Many young children are too busy playing and put off going to the toilet. The poo then becomes harder and larger. Toilet time should be set aside to allow for regular, undisturbed visits to the toilet;
- Holding-on behaviour – after a painful or frightening experience, such as doing a hard and painful poo;
- Change in toilet environment – such as new or undesirable school toilets, or being told to hold on when they feel the urge to go (typically at school);
- Diet – many children who are constipated have an adequate diet and increasing children’s fibre and water intake may not fix constipation;
- Anal fissures – are painful and may cause your child to resist going to the toilet (or holding on). A vicious cycle can then set up with holding on making constipation worse and subsequent bowel movements even more painful to pass;
- Disease – in a very small number of children, constipation may be the result of a physical disease. Diseases such as the absence of normal nerve endings in parts of the bowel, defects of the spinal cord, thyroid deficiency and certain other metabolic disorders can cause constipation. All of these are rare, but your doctor will check your child for them.
What to Feed a Toddler to Fight Constipation
Certain varieties of fruits may help your toddler fight constipation because they are high in fiber. When your toddler gets plenty of fiber in his or her diet, he or she is less likely to get constipated, but adding them after the fact may help reduce the time he/she spends suffering. Fiber cannot be digested and helps keep your toddler’s bowels clean. The most effective fruits for fighting constipation include prunes, apricots, plums and raisins. Bananas are not useful for constipation, so eliminate them from your toddler’s diet until his/her constipation has passed.
Vegetables that are high in fiber can also help your toddler fight constipation. Certain vegetables contain several grams of fiber per serving, which helps clean out your toddler’s bowels and enables her to pass stool. The best vegetables to include in your toddler’s constipation diet are peas, beans and broccoli. Keep vegetables in your toddler’s diet after she recovers from her bout of constipation to help prevent recurrence in the future.
If your toddler does not drink plenty of water, increasing the amount of liquids may help treat and prevent constipation. Getting plenty of fluids helps digested food move through the bowels more easily, which makes constipation less likely. Water is the healthiest beverage for your toddler, but 3 to 4 ounces of prune juice can help ease constipation as well.