Disclaimer – This post will only appeal to parents. Why? Because I am discussing the pooping habits (or lack thereof) of children. So if you don't have kids, come back in a few days and read about something that will appeal to your sensibilities more than this. Or hey – stick around and generate some random facts to share over cocktails with your friends. Even better – maybe this will enlighten you on your own pooping issues!
Everybody poops right?
Everybody should poop is the more accurate statement.
As every parent comes to understand, the elimination habits of children becomes somewhat of an obsession. No, not for the child but for the parents.
You see, more and more babies and children these days are struggling in the poop department. Some don't go enough. Some go too much. Some refuse to go. Some are scared to go. Some go where you don't want them to go. Others want to go but can't go.
Ahhhh….the complexities of taking a good BM as a wee one. ‹ Did you see what I did there? BM, wee. Together in the same sentence. Come one, you know that one was funny.
Ok, let's get serious. Constipation in children.
Disclaimer time! I am not a licensed medical professional nor do I play one on this site so please do not take a single thing I write here to be bonafide medical advice. Whatever I share here is based on my personal experience, research, and possibly the experience of others. I am not making any medical claims. So take what I write and consult with your trusted practitioner before making any changes.
There are way too many constipated babies and children these days. I kid you not when I tell you that almost every single one of my friends' children is constipated. Chronically. This is sad. There shouldn't be so many constipated children. There is plenty of time in life to get acquainted with the throne. No need to waste your childhood struggling to drop a deuce.
I have become rather well versed in poop as a result of the misadventures of Tiny. Tiny and poop are not friends. They battle. Constantly. And it hurts me. (Tiny would probably argue that it in fact hurts her more but I disagree. You ever try to convince an unwilling 3 year old to just poop already? Yeah – way more painful than trying to push out a toilet paper roll sized log from a nickel sized hole.)
Let's start with the basics.
What is constipation?
First, constipation has nothing to do with how often you go. Constipation refers to the compactness of stool and the difficulty in passing them. If your child does not poop often enough, it is possible for constipation to be a side effect. But frequency in and of itself is not defined as constipation, although it is an issue. Ideally, everyone should poop daily.
Constipation is really a vicious cycle. It all starts in your mouth. As the food you eat moves through your colon, it absorbs water from the food, forms waste products (AKA poop), and then passes along through muscle contractions toward your rectum for elimination. Constipation occurs when the colon absorbs too much water and/or if the colon muscle contractions are slow or sluggish and the stools move too slowly through it.
When children get bound up, they become rather reluctant to poop. It only takes one bout with constipation for a child to quickly learn that it is going to hurt to get that poop out. So what is the logical thing for a child to do? Become a poo hoarder. The child holds the poop in, the poop gets bigger and harder, and when it comes time to go, it is next to impossible to get that sucker out.
What causes constipation?
There are several reasons why children experience constipation. At the root of it all, there is usually some sort of gut flora imbalance. A healthy gut keeps all systems functioning like a well-oiled machine. Although some outside factors can come into play, in general, a healthy gut promotes healthy elimination patterns.
In infants, constipation is fairly common if they are primarily fed formula. Now this post is not going to become a breastmilk versus formula debate. However, there is ample evidence that points to formula as being problematic and destructive to an immature gut. So while it is better to breastfeed from a gut health standpoint, just be aware that you may need to support your baby's gut health in other ways if you chose the formula feeding route.
Food allergies are often the culprit in a sudden onset of constipation during the transition from breast/bottle to solid foods. Be sure to introduce foods slowly, taking careful notes of elimination habits after introducing new foods. You might be surprised at what foods trigger constipation. (If you are interested in starting your child off on the real foods track, head over and read my post about starting solids for the real foods baby.)
Lack of adequate hydration is also a major reason children experience constipation. Offer water constantly or make staying hydrated fun! Don't assume that leaving a cup of water out means your child is drinking.
Too much or too little fiber can bind your child up. Fiber seems to be pushed as a constipation cure-all but in reality, fiber is a tricky beast. Oodles of fiber increases the risk of constipation if your child doesn't drink extra water along with eating fiber-rich foods, since fiber needs water to do its intestinal sweeping job. Too little fiber and there isn't anything to sweep out the intestines with. Keep a mindful eye on your child's fiber intake to help them find a happy medium. One item of note – dried fruit does NOT help get things moving without additional water intake. Once that dried fruit hits you digestive track, it rehydrates itself, sucking up available water and thus, creating the potential problem it is thought to solve!
Stress and emotional sensitivity can also play a role in elimination habits. The intestines are a sensitive organ and stress can all but shut them down.
Let's talk about keeping our kids regular shall we?
Wouldn't it be nice to never have to talk your child through a bout of constipation? No reasoning with them. No bribing them. No sitting with them in the bathroom for hours at a time. No tears (yours). No pain (also yours). I kid…I know all too well that those little people shed some big tears and feel some big pain when it comes time to pass a baseball bat sized poop that is harder than my great-grandma's Christmas candy.
Tiny has always struggled with elimination chaos. It has been the bane of our existence since the day she was born. Therefore, I have had the pleasure of learning a lot along the way. And finally, after more than 3 years, we are on more solid footing as it relates to preventing constipation but also ready to tackle a backup if one arises.
Now – let me state that I am NOT a medical professional. I am a mom. Of a poo hoarder. A poo hoarder with underlying gut health issues. We are under the care of the most amazing naturopath on this earth. I wish all pediatricians were this spectacular. We are also working with a nutritional and wellness therapist (Lydia from Divine Health). What I am sharing is what WE have done/been doing to help Tiny. These suggestions may or may not help you. But at the very least, they might give you some talking points with your medical provider.
Let's start with gut health. Tiny was born via c-section which put her already immature gut in a compromised position. Babies born vaginally get all kinds of goodies from the birth canal, goodies that help establish gut flora. Tiny did not get that and I did not know this. In all reality, she should have been on a probiotic since day one. By the time I figured that out, Tiny's gut was a hot mess which led to some of her pooping problems.
Today, Tiny is on a very high quality probiotic/prebiotic blend. You see check out the one we use here. This is a powerhouse and if you decide to use it for your children, let me warn you that you need to introduce it slowly. It is very powerful! Infants can even benefit from it. You can rub a little powder on your nipple or on their cheek. Again, a little goes a long way.
In conjunction with a high quality probiotic, introducing probiotic foods early on is a great way to promote your child's gut health. Fermented foods and beverages are a great way to do this. If you have no idea what I am referring to when I say fermented foods, check out this guest post I wrote.
Children do not have any preconceived notions about proper pooping posture. If you give them to the tools to poop in the most natural position possible, you are setting them up for a lifetime of great poop! Now that Tiny is a bit older, she is ridin' the Squatty Potty train! Yep – she loves the Squatty Potty just as much as I do. You can read more about it in this post which gives you the scoop on poop, but in a nutshell, the Squatty Potty allows you to get into a more natural pooping position. In a semi-squat, the bowels are able to vacate more easily. Children get a kick out of it. Plus, it doubles as an impromptu stool if need be. ‹ Did you all just catch what I did there again? Squatty Potty, stool? Oh my gosh I crack myself up. Seriously.
Food plays a key role in keeping things moving for Tiny. Gluten and dairy cause all kinds of problems. So we stay away from those. Since I am still breastfeeding (as well as dealing with my own poop issues), Tiny and I both follow the GAPS diet to promote further gut healing. Preparing food at home, from scratch, using organic ingredients when possible is another surefire way to keep the bowels happy. Processed foods, junk foods, sugar, and low quality ingredients won't do your child's intestinal health any favors. The cleaner your child eats, the better their ability to process out waste.
When the going does get tough, how do we get the tough going? Our naturopath recommended a product called Oxy Powder. (affiliate link) We have used this with great success since Tiny was 14 months old. While I won't dole out dosing information (since I am not a medical practitioner), I will tell you that it is very safe, very gentle, and something you can use on the wee ones with confidence.
What a lot of parents don't realize is that the colon has an incredible memory. The more poo it holds the more poo it CAN hold. And even if it gets cleared out, it still remembers how much poop it is capable of squirreling away. In order to stop the vicious cycle of poo hoarding and constipation, you have to shrink the colon. Oxy Powder is the safest way to do this in my opinion.
So many pediatricians are quick to recommend laxatives and other pharmaceuticals that the colon becomes dependent on. I always refused to go that route and instead sought out natural ways to keep things moving for Tiny. Honestly, I never found anything “natural” that sat well with me. But Oxy Powder is different. It contains ozonated magnesium oxide, ozonated magnesium peroxide, Germanium-132, and natural citric acid. It adds oxygen into the bloodstream and bowel and does so in a natural and non-toxic way. It uses a time-released oxygen (oxidation/reduction) and turns solid compacted poop into a liquid.
To get Tiny cleared out initially, we put her on a cleansing dose. Working up in increments, the idea was to get her pooping out “liquid” (not to be confused with diarrhea) 3-4 times per day. We kept her on this cleansing dose for several months, until we were sure that her colon had shrunk back down to normal size.
Tiny has a very stubborn colon. Plus she still has gut issues. So, she is still using Oxy Powder as a preventative. Left to its own devices, Tiny's colon will fill up faster than a mouse in a cheese factory. But a dose every few days keeps things moving and Tiny produces the ‘perfect' stool most of the time.
Is anyone still reading? Well if so, I hope that this gives you some food for thought. The bottom line is that constipation is not ok for your child. You need to tackle it head on and in a manner than you are comfortable with. I hope that what I shared makes sense to you and allow you to open a dialogue with your child's pediatrician so that you can restore a better relationship between your child and his or her bowel functions.
Have your struggled with poo issues in your child(ren)? Were you able to support them naturally? Do share your tips and tricks!
Until next time when we discuss another exciting bodily function.
Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.com