Constipation is a common problem for toddlers, causing significant discomfort for little ones and frustration and worry for parents. While constipation in young children can have a variety of causes, cow's milk may contribute. Switching from cow's milk to soy milk may improve constipation for some children, but isn't the right choice for every toddler.
Causes of Constipation
Many toddlers experience constipation at some point. Constipation may be physical or behavioral. Often, increasing fluids and fiber can help resolve constipation without difficulty. Additional fiber supplementation or laxatives are an option when necessary. While most causes of constipation are easily resolved with simple diet changes or medication, long-term constipation can be a sign of milk intolerance.
While most children with an allergy or intolerance to milk show a variety of symptoms, including eczema or a runny nose, pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene states that constipation may be the only symptom associated with milk intolerance. For these children, reducing milk may not be adequate. If you suspect a milk intolerance, replacing milk with an alternate protein source, like soy milk, may provide significant relief from constipation for your toddler.
Fortified soy milk offers all the calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients found in milk. For some children, especially if they've battled chronic constipation, making the switch from dairy milk to soy milk can significantly improve quality of life. While fortified soy milk is a good quality substitute for cow's milk, compounds in soy milk may hamper calcium absorption. Add other sources of calcium, like dark leafy greens or fortified orange juice, to your toddler's diet to accommodate this effect.
Some children who cannot tolerate milk also react to soy proteins. In this case, try replacing milk with another fortified option like rice or almond milk. Soy milk contains phytoestrogens. According to Heidi Murkoff, author of the "What to Expect" series, these compounds may be linked to breast cancer, although researchers do not understand whether they increase or decrease risk, and they may raise concerns about early puberty in girls and hormonal changes in boys. Soy formula has been used without ill effects for many years and there are no human studies that show ill effects from soy foods in childhood. Moderate consumption of soy milk appears safe for toddlers.