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Natural Remedies for Constipation in Children
Constipation in children is, unfortunately, a very common problem. When a child is not having a bowel movement often enough, when they do go, it is typically hard and dry and this can cause them to strain and experience pain. The anticipation of this can further aggravate the situation as children tend to "hold it in" in an attempt to avoid the pain. Your child may start to experience bloating, smelly gas and complain of tummy aches. Constipation can cause a great deal of anxiety for a child and is a stressful time for both the child and the parents.
If left untreated, long-term constipation can lead to more serious health concerns, so it is best dealt with as soon as possible.
Here are just a few tips to help get things moving:
1. WATER: Staying hydrated is very important for digestion and is the first thing to address when dealing with constipation. There is only so much fluid a child is going to drink in a day, so often water ends up being replaced by beverages such as juice or milk. If your child does not drink enough water, try reducing or diluting other beverages to increase their water intake.
2. FIBRE: If your child's diet does not contain enough fibre, this could be contributing to the problem. But simply loading up on fibre is not always the answer. Increasing intake of fibre without a sufficient intake of water can further aggravate the situation. Everyday foods that contain fibre include fruits and vegetables, whole grain, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes. If your child is a picky eater, it can often be challenging for them to include enough fibre-rich foods. "Sneaking" these fibre-rich foods into their diets is an option, however, it is not a long-term solution.
3. PROBIOTICS: Beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotics can help tremendously for children with digestive issues. There are many differences between the strains of probiotics on the market so choosing the most effective probiotic for your child's individual situation is important. Many people think that yogurt is a good way to increase beneficial bacteria but this is not always the case. There is a huge difference in quantities of bacteria found in therapeutic forms of probiotics compared to those found in most commercial yogurts.
4. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS: Omega 3 fats in the form of fish oil or flaxseed oil can help by lubricating the stool. Including these healthy fats on a daily basis can get things moving more easily. They can be given right off the spoon, or added into smoothies or a bit of applesauce, but they should not be heated.
5. POSSIBLE FOOD SENSITIVITIES: If you have tried many of these suggestions and your child is still having difficulties, you may want to explore the possibility of a food sensitivity. Common foods such dairy or wheat can cause constipation in sensitive individuals, however, traditional allergy testing would not necessarily pick up on this. A supervised elimination diet can often help get to the bottom of it.
Constipation, whether it occurs in children or adults, can be a complicated issue. Almost always there will be nutritional factors, but emotions and stress also play a large role. Each one of us has a unique situation so there is not one solution that will resolve the issue for everyone. If after your best efforts, the constipation still does not improve, please consult with a healthcare practitioner.
Aviva Allen is a Toronto Nutritionist specializing in prenatal, infant and child nutrition. For more information, or to book an appointment, visit www.avivaallen.com.