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19th Jul 2020

Constipation in children: The trick my public health nurse recommended that really, really helped

Trine Jensen-Burke

constipation in children

It was one of those things that I never really knew could be an issue (like so many other things when it comes to parenting and raising littles, I guess).

But as I found out, constipation is actually fairly common in young children (apparently, as many as 30 percent will go through phases of suffering from it as babies or up until they reach school-going age). Note that doctors often recommend that if you suspect your child is suffering from constipation, you should bring it up with your GP or public health nurse straight away, as they will be able to recommend ways of trying to resolve it, and hence might stop it from becoming something which persists.

For babies, constipation is more common in babies who are formula-fed, but often, the problem might present itself when you start weaning, and their digestive systems now suddenly have to get used to actual food as opposed to just liquids.

If you are wondering whether or not your child is actually constipated, these are things to look out for:

A child is uncomfortable while unable to pass a stool, experiences minutes of straining and pain while attempting a bowel movement, or goes three or fewer times per week with hard, dry stool.

Another point at which some children start struggling with constipation is around potty-training age. Suddenly they have to start getting used to holding their bowels or bladder until they reach the potty or toilet, and it is easy to see how this can cause a sense of try to control things – to the extent that this sometimes, according to doctors, can lead to the child becoming constipated.

This is what happened in our house, but when I mentioned my concern to my public health nurse, she had plenty of great advice to try out. First of all, she reminded me that constipation is often a result of either physical and psychological triggers – or sometimes even both. Around potty training age, the actual process of learning to not go whenever but to hold it and go on the potty can cause a little bit of stress in children, she explained. And that this can sometimes present itself in the form of constipation, as a result of them trying to control their bowel and bladder movements.

She also said it is important to try to resolve the issue early on, as chronic constipation can become an issue and this is often both more painful and uncomfortable for the child and can take longer to fix.

Her best tips? Including plenty of foods that are great for keeping the digestive system moving along – such as plums, pears, peaches, pineapple and prunes – all easily disguised in a smoothie, I’ll have you know. Other great foods for treating constipation include berries, lentils and broccoli, and flax seeds are great too, I used to sprinkle a teaspoon of it on top of their porridge (and told them it was special sugar!)

As well as this, I got a little star chart for our bathroom wall – because sometimes a bit of fun encouragement is key to make things happen with kids. The chart worked well for establishing a bit of a regular toilet routine, in that I would get them to try to use the bathroom at certain times a day.

This, my public health nurse argues, is great for training your bowel to get used to doing a bowel movement at a similar time each day. Sometimes we’d bring a book with us and I would read a little story as they sat there on the potty, and really, I think just creating this relaxed and nice atmosphere around their toilet routine was what eventually led to constipation no longer being an issue.

Tell us, do YOU have any great constipation tips that you used with your own children? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @herfamilydotie