Constipation occurs when children have fewer than two bowel movements per week or have bowel movements that are dry, hard and difficult to pass. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, constipation is common in children and accounts for 5 percent of all visits to a pediatrician's office. Thankfully, a few dietary and lifestyle changes, such as increasing fiber and fluid intake, may provide relief from constipation.
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As food moves through the digestive tract, water is absorbed. If stool spends too long in the body, it may become dry and hard, leading to constipation. Increasing water and fluid intake may help to prevent this drying of stools, thereby making them softer and easier to pass. Aim for most of daily fluid intake to come from plain water. Many juices are high in added sugar, so you'll want to limit those drinks and choose all-natural fruit juices with no sugar added. According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children ages 4 to 8 need at least 1.3 liters of fluid per day, girls ages 9 to 13 need 2.1 liters per day and boys ages 9 to 13 need 2.4 liters per day. See your pediatrician for exact fluid recommendations based on your child's age, weight and gender.
Prunes or Prune Juice
Eating prunes or drinking prune juice can also help to relieve constipation in children. Prunes are high in dietary fiber, which encourages soft and regular bowel movements. According to a May 2001 article in the journal "Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition," prunes and prune juice also contain natural laxative compounds, such as sorbitol, which may promote bowel movements. Try feeding 1/4 cup of prunes or 3/4 cup of prune juice per day for children under the age of 6 and no more than 1.5 cups of prune juice per day for children ages 7 and older to promote bowel movements.
Fruits and Vegetables
Increasing your child's fruit and vegetable intake may also provide constipation relief. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of both dietary fiber and fluid to keep foods moving through the digestive tract and prevent hardening of stools. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends calculating a child's fiber needs by taking his age and adding 5 to it. So, a 4-year-old needs roughly 9 grams of fiber per day. Many fruits and vegetables, such as apples, pears, bananas, raspberries, cooked carrots, peas, winter squash and broccoli, provide 3 to 5 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup.
Whole Grains and Legumes
Whole-grain foods and legumes are other excellent sources of dietary fiber for children. Choose cereals, breads and pastas made from whole grains such as oats and whole wheat. Avoid refined or processed grain foods such as white bread, white rice, white flour and regular pasta because they lack fiber. Brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal can also be added to a child's diet to boost fiber intake. Cooked beans, such as pinto beans, kidney beans and navy beans, provide 6 to 10 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup to help promote regular bowel movements.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation in Children
- EatRight.org: Water: Go With the Flow
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: Chemical Composition and Potential Health Effects of Prunes: A Functional Food?
- EatRightOntario.ca: Constipation in Children
- WeHealNY: Bowel Function: Dietary Fiber