Advice from Dr. B

Pediatrician's Perspective

Constipation 101: Good Nutrition is the Mission & Exercise is Wise

After a child has been constipated, parents do whatever they can to prevent another episode from happening. We want to help. Here, we will tell you about two important factors to help manage and prevent occasional constipation. They are nutrition and exercise.

Good Nutrition Is the Mission

The average American adult diet lacks fiber. This holds true for American children as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “recommends that people between the ages of 2 and 19 years eat a daily amount of fiber that equals their age plus 5 grams of fiber. For example, 7 grams of fiber are recommended if your child is 2 years of age (2 plus 5 grams).” Below are some examples of high-fiber foods (fiber listed in grams) you can feed your kids:

  • Raspberries (1 cup) – 5.1 grams
  • Broccoli (1 stalk) – 5 grams
  • Carrots (1 cup) – 4.6 grams
  • Pear (with skin) – 4.6 grams

You can find more examples of high-fiber foods on the AAP’s website. Try to include more high-fiber foods and less carbohydrate-rich foods and snacks (such as pretzels, crackers, white bread, white rice, pasta, etc.) in your child’s diet to help prevent constipation. Some fruits can also be constipating, like bananas, apples without the skin and applesauce. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream also make poop less watery and harder to pass. 

Getting your child to drink plenty of water and eat a diet high in fiber will help prevent constipation. It will also help them create healthy habits that last as the child grows into the teenage years and adulthood.

Exercise Is Wise

When the body is in motion, all the body’s systems are in motion too. The heart, lungs, muscles and brain all work in harmony with each other. The digestive system also gets a boost of blood, oxygen and nutrients when all the other systems are working well. This helps to keep the bowel moving and functioning well, which means it’s easier to poop. Exercise also helps decrease stress. Children with constipation can get frustrated, embarrassed and scared. They subconsciously hold in stress from withholding stool, fear of pooping uncontrollably and fear of pain while pooping. Regular exercise helps lessen that stress and helps kids feel good about themselves. This may ease the tension enough to help them to poop regularly.

While exercising, it is wise to make sure the child is getting enough water, especially if they are sweating a lot during exercise and play. During exercise, children should drink water every 15-20 minutes. Drinking enough water will also help prevent constipation. While there are differences of opinion on daily water intake for kids, most pediatric experts recommend a minimal daily intake of one 8 oz. cup of water for a one year old, two 8 oz. cups for a two year old, three 8 oz. cups for a three year old, and so on, until 8 years of age and older. At age 8, eight 8 oz cups is the maximum.

It is also important to avoid sugar-filled drinks as much as possible because they throw off water absorption in the gut. Avoid energy drinks with caffeine and other additives too. These drinks can increase blood pressure and have other harmful effects.

Exercise can come in many different forms. Here are some ideas for kids:

  • Take a martial arts or yoga class

  • Walk with friends around the block, in a mall or at a park with a trusted adult.

  • Take swimming or tennis lessons.

  • Dance to music with family members or friends at home.

  • Kick or throw a ball around in the yard

  • Join a sports league or intramural program.

  • Go hiking or on a nature walk.

Basically anything that keeps the body moving and raises the heart rate is good exercise. Of course, the exercise should be fun and enjoyable so the child wants to do it.

For both diet and exercise, empower the child by letting them choose what to do. You can let them choose what water bottle or sippy cup they want to use. Let them pick (from choices the parent provides) what kind of fruit they can eat for a snack. One fun way of encouraging exercise is to write one exercise on an index card and put a bunch of different exercise index cards on the fridge or bulletin board. Then, have the child choose which one they want to do for the day. This involves the child in the action and gives them self-confidence. These strategies and preventive measures used regularly will help the child develop healthy habits that lead to a healthy, functioning digestive tract, overall good health and well-being.

Remember to check with your child’s doctor before starting your child on any strenuous exercise program. It is also important to talk with your child’s doctor when dealing with constipation or any medical condition. They know your child’s medical history and will be able to give you the most suitable recommendations.

You can learn more about child constipation on our website and also learn more about Pedia-Lax® products that can help relieve occasional constipation.

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