How To Resolve Constipation Naturally in Children
March 1, 2018
If your child is constipated on a regular basis, you are not alone. Many of our children struggle with constipation. It is one of the most challenging yet pressing concerns you need to resolve in order for your child to thrive. Constipation is at the root of a number of health issues, which is why it’s crucial to get it under control early in your journey to recovery.
Most doctors will recommend that you start your constipated child on a stool softener such as Miralax. Although they can provide relief, these stool softeners do not address the underlying reason for the constipation, which will probably resume as soon as the child stops taking the softener. In this article, you’ll learn how to identify the possible root causes of your child’s sluggish bowels, and how you can resolve constipation naturally.
What is Constipation?
Constipation is generally defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week, but functional and integrative practitioners consider constipation to be fewer than one substantial bowel movement per day. One to two bowel movements daily is ideal.
Bowel movements are usually strained, slow and may even interfere with daily life. Stools are usually hard and lumpy. The child might feel as though there is more stool that won’t come out. For a clear picture of what a healthy stool looks like (and what it unhealthy stool looks like), check out the Bristol Stool Chart. Types 3 and 4 are what you’re aiming for.
Some children alternate between diarrhea and constipation. This is often due to a “spillover” effect, which is the digestive tract’s way of moving waste out of the body despite constipation back up. When the stool becomes compacted, meaning that a large amount of accumulated stool builds up and slows or even becomes stuck in the intestines, the digestive tract will send a distress signal that pushes any liquefied stool out and around the compacted stool. If you are confused about the diarrhea-constipation-diarrhea cycle in your child, it may be due to the spillover effect and indicates that your child is constipated.
Why Is it Important to Resolve Constipation?
The digestive system plays a major role in the body’s removal of toxins. Waste and toxins from the kidneys, liver and the digestive system itself all funnel out through the intestines. When digestion slows, waste remains in the large intestine longer than usual and is fermented by the microbes in the large intestine. This process produces new toxins that are reabsorbed back into the bloodstream as they sit around for extended periods in the large intestine. All the toxins your body was supposed to get rid of (and new ones produced by an imbalanced gut microbial community), re-enter the body where they can contribute to a number of symptoms in your child.
The potentially pathogenic microbes that thrive on the abundance of waste that remains in the intestines produce microbial toxins and inflammation that damage the lining of the intestine, creating leaky gut, which allows yet more (and larger) toxins to enter the bloodstream. It’s a vicious cycle that can be avoided with a little bit of help
What Causes Constipation?
Getting to the bottom of your child’s constipation will help you figure out which steps will be most helpful in alleviating his sluggish bowels. The following are the most common contributors to constipation.
Digestive Dysfunction. There are a number of reasons for digestive dysfunction, only some of which I cover in this blog. Please refer back to Part 1 and Part 2 of my series on poor digestion for a great overview of what your child might be facing and hot to manage it.
Dysbiosis. As mentioned above, an imbalance of your child’s gut microbes, also known as dysbiosis, might be leading to or worsening her constipation. A healthy community of gut microbes helps maintain proper gut motility or the movement of stool through the digestive tract. But when the wrong microbes are present, digestion either slows or speeds up (and sometimes both, which might also be an explanation if your child alternates between constipation and diarrhea).
Dehydration. It almost seems too simple, but dehydration is a common cause of constipation. As waste moves through the digestive tract, water is continually removed, which transforms waste from a liquid to a more solid state. This is a good thing when your child is properly hydrated. But if not, the body will remove extra moisture in an effort to hydrate the body’s cells, causing the stool to become very hard and more difficult to pass.
Magnesium deficiency. A deficiency in the mineral magnesium may underlie your child’s constipation. Magnesium naturally draws water into the stool. When your child has a magnesium deficiency, he does not get this additional benefit of the mineral.
Low-fibre diet. Getting our children to eat a varied diet that is rich in high-fibre foods is a challenge, I know. But a diet that lacks vegetables and low-sugar fruits is almost sure to constipate your child.
Motility issues. It may be that your child is constipated because the motility of her bowels is slowed for some reason. This can be the result of gallbladder dysfunction, low vagal nerve tone, lack of exercise or, as mentioned above, dysbiosis.
How to Resolve Constipation Naturally
- Support digestion. There are so many ways to support digestion, in addition to some mentioned below. Check out all my blogs on gut health to learn more and get a better idea about which areas you need to focus on. And here is my Digestion Cheat Sheet filled with solutions that you can get started with right away.
- Hydrate. Keep your child well hydrated with filtered mineral water as well as bone broth or meat stock. Have a water bottle nearby (I love stainless steel water bottles) at all times, and remind your child to drink up. This one simple step will make a huge difference if your child isn’t getting enough fluids.
- Replenish gut microbes. To balance the gut microbes, include probiotic foods like kefir, low-sugar yogurts and other fermented foods in your child’s diet, as well as prebiotic foods, like leeks, onions, and garlic, which help to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Make dietary changes. Our children face a range of dietary sensitivities and yet many have strong food aversions that can make dietary changes a challenge. But when you take small steps to clean up your child’s diet, it can make all the difference. The most helpful dietary changes to make when your child is constipated are the following:
- Add high-fibre foods like non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits and smaller amounts of non-gluten grains that your child doesn’t have a sensitivity to. (Grains may be completely off limits, depending on your child. Proceed with caution.) Apples are one of the best fibre-rich foods you can offer, and most kids love apples
- Remove dairy. If you haven’t already removed dairy from your child’s diet, you’ll want to try it for four to six weeks (and even up to three months) to see what a difference it makes.
- Remove processed foods and sugars. These high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are full of chemicals that our children tend to be particularly sensitive to. They can trigger a host of symptoms, including constipation.
- Remove foods your child is intolerant to. If you have noticed that your child behaves differently or exhibits symptoms after a certain type of food, it’s likely that food is having a bigger effect than you realize. Not all foods will create an immediate reaction, however. Food elimination diets, while a bit cumbersome to undergo, will help you determine what foods your child is intolerant of so that you can keep these foods out of your child’s diet.
- Improve gut motility. There are a few ways you can help your child improve her gut motility:
- Fat digestion support. If your child’s gallbladder is sluggish, she may not be properly digesting fats. To support fat digestion, the digestive enzyme lipase is helpful. Lecithin, which helps break up larger fat molecules in the digestive system, can also be helpful.
- Physical movement. Exercise can be very effective for, literally, getting your child’s bowels moving. Get him moving on a regular basis.
- Vagus nerve stimulation. Check out my podcasts here and here for more information on how to stimulate the vagus nerve.
- Digestive supplements for constipation. The following supplements are often helpful for children who are constipated:
- Magnesium: Regular Epsom salt baths or rubbing magnesium oil onto the feet are two ways your child can absorb magnesium through the skin. Natural Calm is a great magnesium powder that your child can take orally
- Probiotics: Look for a multistrain probiotic that has been formulated especially for children. I like to use high-quality brands like Klaire Labs and spore-based probiotics like MegaSporeBiotic.
- Aloe Vera: Aloe vera juice is a great supplement that helps heal and soothe the digestive lining. When choosing an Aloe Vera supplement, be sure to look to see that they are certified by the International Aloe Science Council (IASC) for purity and content, ensuring the products contain 100% pure aloe vera, like Lily of the Desert. If your child’s constipation is related to digestive inflammation, this can be particularly helpful.
- Cod liver oil: This tried-and-true supplement can be helpful for constipation with the added benefit of delivering beneficial omega-3 fats and vitamins A and D.
- Psyllium husk fibre: Psyllium husk fibre, when introduced slowly, gradually increased over time and accompanied by plenty of water, can be a big help for constipated kids.
- Vitamin C: When taken in higher doses, vitamin C has a laxative effect. Begin with 100 mg per day, and build up until your child experiences looser stools. The additional vitamin C has plenty of antioxidant effects that will go far beyond alleviating constipation.
- Essential oils. Essential oils to support digestion and ensuring your child is in a parasympathetic state for optimal digestion is key. I use Vibrant Blue Oils parasympathetic blend with my children.
- Enemas. Enemas work, simply put. They may not be fun, but they work. If your child’s bowels are impacted, or if they become impacted on a regular basis despite trying the options above, you’ll want to try an enema.
Starting with supporting digestion and hydration is key and use tools like enemas, magnesium, vitamin C and aloe vera to help relieve constipation while you address the root causes. Unfortunately, constipation is often challenging to resolve but taking this approach will both give your child relief they need now and set them up to have permanent relief in the future without all the additional supplementation and supports.
Be sure to grab the cheat sheet summarizing how to resolve constipation naturally in children.
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