Causes and Treatment to Help Relieve Constipation in Toddlers and Children
Constipation is common among toddlers and children. Some experts are even calling it a current epidemic in western society.
I see this often in my practice in the age range of 6 months – 6 year olds. Either the child was referred in for constipation or they had another issue and it is brought up in the exam.
I am looking for and seeing two different things in the 6-12 month range and 1-6 year old range. For that reason I will brake this up into two different posts.
A disclaimer- There are many factors that contribute to constipation and each child’s situation is unique. This is why it is important to discuss the child’s care in the office and find the best plan of treatment that meets the child’s and family’s goals.
First, let’s discuss what is normal.
Children should be having a bowel movement at least one time per day. This goes for adults as well (as a side note, this info is useful for adults that suffer from constipation).
Consistency should be soft- The stool itself should be soft and take on the shape of the intestine and not rock hard or super large (especially for a young child). Any thing like “rabbit turds” is abnormal.
A regular bowel movement should not be hurting the child- If the child has a tummy ache or ate something that didn’t agree with them that is normal. If the child is complaining at the toilet each time or constantly complaining of tummy aches, it is most likely due to some form of constipation.
There are two main causes for constipation:
Diet- Our western diet consists of many items that cause inflammation and constipation. Most kids are on what I call a Heavy Gluten and Dairy Diet (cereals, mac and cheese, pizza, grilled cheese- almost every kids menu at any restaurant). These food can cause the stool to be harder than say fruits and veggies and aid in the constipation.
Holding their bowl movements. This accounts for almost 95% of constipation issues that end up in hospitals. The child is holding their bowel movement because they know it is going to be painful. They are scared of it and so they don’t go. This creates a cycle of constipation. The more the child holds it the dryer the stool becomes and the more it will hurt.
So, lets discuss what we can do for the child that suffers from constipation.
Some at Home Treatments:
There are a TON of natural home treatments that can be found online. However, I am a mother of three young ones and I find many of them are not practical or a child simply won’t do it. This causes the mother to go crazy and they stop trying (I’ve been there:). Here are some simple things you can do at home to help soften the stool and to aid in the passing of stools to be more comfortable to the child.
- Add more water intake per day. The reason many children get constipated is dehydration. Increased dehydration leads to harder stools that are harder to pass and more painful. This can be the start of the constipation cycle. Increased hydration will aid in softening the stool. (it needs to be water and not juices, some juices and especially soda can actually cause dehydration).
- Add coconut oil while cooking (you can add this to anything you are cooking) OR mix a little in with a yogurt, smoothies, or I make high protein breakfast “cookies” that I put coconut oil in. The coconut oil will act as a lubricant to the lining of the intestine and colon.
- 100% pure prune juice. This acts as a natural laxative. If the child does not like the taste try sneaking it into foods such as yogurt or smoothies.
- Miralax – To me Miralax is like Drano. If the sink is clogged we need to unclog it. However, we wouldn’t use Drano on the sink everyday without looking at a possible cause and long term solution. If you are having your child take Miralax the more water consumption the better. Miralax works by pulling water into the gut to soften the stool. Another reason why increased water intake is so important. If the child is taking Miralax or some form of laxatives to pass tools start to incorporate other things so this is not a long term solution.
- Fixing the diet. If the child’s diet is a heathy balance of carbs, fats and proteins that is great. If it isn’t we need to look at making changes to the diet. This is an area where you and your child are either setting themselves up for long term success or long term failure. There are many reasons why children only eat certain foods and a topic for another day. Each child is different so finding what works best for you and your child is key.
How does Chiropractic Care help?
When a child reports to my office with signs and symptoms of constipation or has been told by a health care practitioner that they have constipation there are specific things I am looking for.
Tension in the low back- I have the child lay face down on the table and it is common that the left sided paraspinal muscles along the low back are contracted (very tense).
Joint restrictions in the lumbar and sacral region- movement of the lumbar spine and hips is decreased. This happens because they are holding that bowel movement or buildup is happening in the lower left quadrant of the abdomen and back causing tension throughout the area.
Avoidance of the toilet. Most kids don’t want to sit on the toilet so we discuss this as part of their “homework.”
I typically find tension throughout the back as well from holding the bowel movements and will adjust there if needed. I then do some muscle work to help calm down the muscle surrounding the low back and the front left lower quadrant of the abdomen. The reason why it is so successful in helping the child with constipation is that they start to break the cycle of holding their bowel movement. It hurts a little less more and more in that area and they start to go more and more. Depending on how long this has been going on in the child and how severe it is will account for the recommendation of care but most children respond fairly quickly.
The adjustment also helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (which I discussed in this previous video) that helps the child with rest and digest. If the child has trouble getting into their rest and digest state they will have issues with constipation.
If your children is suffering from constipation or you suspect they might be give our office a call and set up an exam. We will discuss their case one on one and find the best treatment for them to get them on the road to recovery.
All the Best
Dr. Becky Perry-Domres