Advice from Dr. B

Pediatrician's Perspective

What Triggers Toddler Constipation?

One of the most common conditions toddlers face is constipation. It can be a sign of illness and/or a chronic condition. Being constipated can be scary for young children who do not understand what is happening to their body. All they know is they have pain when they try to poop, so they try to stop pooping, which can make the condition worse. To help your child and help prevent constipation, it is good to know the signs to look for and what behaviors can cause constipation.  

Most toddlers who are constipated will show the following symptoms and behaviors:

  • Crying while pooping or when trying to poop
  • Hiding when they feel the urge to poop
  • Becoming clingy and crying excessively for what seems like no reason
  • Becoming combative and irritable
  • Becoming more impatient and cranky
  • Complaining of stomach aches and pains
  • Vomiting
  • Not pooping for 24-48 hours or more

Children who have had one or more bad episodes of constipation, will usually try to avoid pooping. So it’s important for parents to try and help their child prevent constipation by understanding what triggers it.  

Diet & Constipation

A toddler’s diet largely contributes to the start of constipation. An average toddler’s diet consists of foods that can be constipating, such as:

  • Dairy products – milk, yogurt, cheese
  • Bananas
  • Apples and applesauce
  • Some low-fiber cereals
  • Carbohydrate-rich snacks
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta

Most toddlers would rather eat carbohydrate-rich foods like pasta and rice versus fiber-rich fruits and veggies like raspberries, broccoli and brussel sprouts. But, fiber-rich foods make it easier to poop. Fiber-rich foods help bulk up the stool and allow it to absorb more water. This eases the passage through the digestive tract and reduces constipation.

Certain drinks can also cause constipation. For example, some toddlers prefer to drink milk when they are thirsty instead of having water. Dairy products like milk are very binding, which means they do not allow water to be absorbed in the stool. This creates a harder poop.

Toddlers also confuse hunger with thirstiness and may keep drinking to satisfy the hunger. If milk is in their sippy cup, this could be a big source of their constipation problems. In any case, keeping an eye on your toddler’s food and fluid intake is half the battle in managing constipation.

Exercise & Constipation

A second factor is lack of exercise. While toddlers are known for their always-on-the-go energy, some can get less energetic, tired and inactive when they are constipated. Subconsciously, they are afraid to move around a lot and possibly bring on a painful poop. Always being on guard like this makes them tired. Their bodies want to rest more and they may take more naps.  Unfortunately, this can make constipation worse because exercise helps keep the gut and digestion moving.

Feeding Changes & Constipation

A third factor is a change of feeding habits. This may happen after changing caregivers or schedule changes. When caregivers aren’t aware of what the child is used to eating, they may worsen the cycle of constipation without realizing it. For example, a birthday party at daycare may mean your toddler eats a cupcake or more sweets. A relative taking care of the child may think an extra bowl of pasta won’t hurt while the parent is gone and the child is crying. None of these caregivers mean any harm, but this innocent, caring action could be enough to set off the cycle of constipation. During times when parents are not available, it is important for other caregivers to know the child’s feeding habits.

These are just some factors that can trigger constipation or make it worse. Drinking more water and eating vegetables and fruits can help. If your child is constipated, have them avoid eating pasta and rice. If these steps don’t work, giving the child prune or pear juice can help. You can also use Pedia-lax® products such as the chewable tablets or liquid glycerin suppositories as directed to relieve occasional constipation of your child 2 years old or older.

It is always important to check with your child’s doctor first when dealing with occasional constipation or any medical condition. They know your child’s medical history and will be able to give you the safest and most suitable recommendations.

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