The very first time I saw my daughter struggle to poop I felt terrible. After months of exclusive breastfeeding with regular very soft bowel movements, solid foods were getting to her belly. A few times, she screamed so loudly I was really nervous something terrible was happening. Thankfully, there were natural remedies for constipation that helped her pass things through. Constipation happens to kids of all ages, from babies up to teens, and it can be stressful!
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Constipation in babies
In babies, constipation is usually related to their digestive tract getting used to the process of digesting solid food. The best baby constipation foods include soft fruits and veggies (puree or appropriately served whole versions if following the baby-led weaning method).
Food variety is very important in babies to meet key nutrient needs, so don’t get stuck on only serving fruit and veggies due to fear of constipation.
If you need more support as you start your baby on solids, be sure to download my free starting solids e-guide to help.
You can also add a couple of extra ounces of fluid each day (1-2 oz. should help). Prune or apricot nectar (1 oz.) can also be added to their milk/formula to get things moving. Most of their fluid intake should be coming from formula or breast milk.
Constipation in toddlers
Toddler constipation is super common! There are many reasons for this but the top reasons are related to potty training (they are still learning how to identify their urges) and picky eating.
When toddlers are first learning to use the potty, they might resist the urge to go so they don’t miss playtime (this happens in older kids too). The more they hold it in, the higher the risk of constipation. They also might drink less water so they don’t have to stop play to pee as well. Lack of water can contribute to backups. You can help them by intentionally stopping playtime and bringing them to the bathroom. Be sure to explain to them that they won’t miss out on anything and it will all pause while they go potty.
Picky eating and constipation
Picky eating in toddlers is also a top cause of constipation. During this phase, toddlers decline more fruits and veggies and tend to opt more toward the foods that are “white.” Think bananas, french fries, white toast, sugary or sweet muffins, and bread. These foods lack fiber which is important to help move things along. If you have a picky toddler at home, be sure you learn how to address that first.
If picky eating is a struggle for your toddler or child, be sure to download this try a new food guide to get you back on track. What your kids eat will significantly help with constipation prevention and treatment.
How to identify constipation in children
Constipation a very unpleasant feeling for kids, just as it is for adults. Bloating, cramping, and straining are all signs of constipation. But there are a lot more than you may think and a few might surprise you.
Babies can’t tell you what they are feeling and toddlers/young children may not know what they are feeling or be able to accurately describe it. This makes identifying constipation difficult.
What is normal poop?
Getting a visual of your children’s bowel movements is a good way to determine if they might be struggling with constipation.
Ideally, when they go, their poop should be smooth and long. If your child’s poop is extra lumpy and hard or looks like tiny marbles, there is a good chance they are constipated. Babies should have soft, pudding-like poop in their diaper.
Talking about your kid’s poop isn’t very glamorous I know, but trust me, once you learn to identify what is normal and what is not, it takes a lot of the stress away.
Signs of constipation in kids
As a parent, it is important to pay attention to your child’s behaviors, they will often give you signs they are constipated. Some common signs of constipation in babies, toddlers, and kids include:
- Straining to poop
- Crying when going to the bathroom (common in babies)
- A touch of blood left on the toilet paper or in the diaper
- Pain, or discomfort while pooping (older kids can tell you)
- Fewer than normal trips to the bathroom
- Frequent trips to the bathroom with small hard stools
- Feeling bloated and full (are they holding their belly?)
- Frequent bedwetting
- Recurrent UTI’s in girls
Causes of Constipation In Kids
Everybody is different, so it is important to get to know your child’s routine and what is normal for them. When you figure out the root cause of their constipation, you can determine which natural remedies for constipation will help most. Here are some of the most common reasons kids get constipated:
Avoiding the urge to go
- Ignoring the urge to go too frequently produces hard, dry stool that makes it even harder the next time.
- This can lead stool to back up in the rectum and may also press on the bladder causing children to wet the bed at night.
- Over time, this can cause chronic constipation.
- Kids who avoid the urge to go often don’t want to miss playtime (see below) or they are afraid to go because of the pain.
Discomfort or Embarrassment
- Children may be uncomfortable or embarrassed about using the restroom outside of their homes and instead avoid having a bowel movement altogether.
- Many children report they don’t like to use the bathrooms at school so they will hold it until they get home. You might be surprised how often I hear this in my office.
- Kids will often avoid going to the bathroom at friends’ houses, at overnight camps, or in other less comfortable environments. If this is a chronic issue, it can lead to problems.
- Children may not want to stop playing to take a trip to the bathroom, so they hold it in.
- Encouraging regular bathroom breaks when at home can help create a routine.
Not drinking enough fluids
- The fluid is required to move food through the GI tract. When kids don’t drink enough fluids throughout the day, it is harder to pass digested food waste through their bodies. This can cause hard stools that back up.
- Stool backups can stretch the rectum creating more back up.
Medications and supplements
- Iron supplements, pain medications, and anticonvulsants can result in constipation. If your child is taking any of these medications, be sure to monitor their bowel movements.
- Discuss these medications with your doctor or dietitian, they might suggest increasing certain foods or fluids or adding in other fiber type supplements to ensure constipation doesn’t occur.
A diet low in fiber
- Fiber comes from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Kids who are not offered a variety of fiber-rich foods or those with picky eating tendencies that refuse these foods may be more likely to become constipated.
How much fiber should kids have per day?
There are many different recommendations out there for the number of grams of fiber kids need each day. I find the easiest to remember is the age + 5 grams rule.
Take your child’s age, then add 5 to it. This gives you the grams per day of fiber.
If your child is 4 years old then 4 years + 5 grams = 9 grams of fiber per day. Most children get well below the recommended amount of fiber each day. This is why constipation is one of the most common childhood issues.
Don’t stress about counting fiber grams each day, just get in the habit of offering a fruit, vegetable, legume or whole-grain option at each meal.
Kids constipation quick relief
If the constipation is new, or mild, start with diet changes and hydration. If the constipation is ongoing, or you notice frequent signs, it would be best to consult with their doctor.
4 steps to constipation relief for kids
1. Diet: Add Fiber to Your Childs Diet
- Fiber adds mass to stool, reducing strain and discomfort and making it easier to pass through and out of the body.
- If a child is already severely backed up, fiber from food can make it worse. So talk to their doctor first to determine if medication is needed as the first step. If constipation is mild, increasing fiber can help.
- Increase fiber in the diet slowly and make sure they get plenty of water (see step 2.)
- See the list of foods below for natural remedies for constipation.
2. Diet: Hydrate
- Hydration is essential to regular bowel movements, particularly if more fiber is added to the diet.
- If the fiber is increased without adequate hydration, poop is bulked up, but still difficult to pass.
- Keeping your child properly hydrated softens the poop so it is easier to pass.
- A quick guideline is that children should drink the number of 8 oz. glasses equal to their age.
- So, if your child were 3 years, they would drink (3) 8 oz. glasses of water (or 24 oz of fluid)-not all at once of course.
- Limit milk intake if your child is drinking a lot. Too much milk can make constipation worse.
3. Exercise: Keep Your Child Moving!
- Exercise stimulates the bowels and helps maintain health and regular bowel movements.
- If your child’s body is moving, their bowels are moving as well.
- Schedule structured or unstructured playtime each day
- The goal is more than 60 min. per day of movement.
4. Consult with their doctor
- If your child is severely or chronically constipated, they may need initial medical intervention to get things moving
- Doctors will often prescribe an enema along with Miralax to help pass the poop.
- Parents often fear these medications, however, rest assured they are not habit-forming and will help in the long run.
- Often, children who suffer from constipation have a fear of pain when they poop.
- By giving medications to soften their poop, it will help them go pain-free and get rid of the fear for future trips to the bathroom.
- Once the medication is in place to get things moving, initiate a solid diet and exercise routine to prevent future bouts of constipation (as outlined in steps 1-3).
Best foods for constipated kids
Foods that are rich in fiber and those that contain natural laxatives are the best options to help with regularity.
- Whole grains: whole-wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal, and bran cereal
- Fruits: raspberries, blackberries, pears, apples, oranges
- Dried fruits: raisins (contain tartaric acid), prunes (or prune juice) and apricots (which contain sorbitol) are natural laxatives
- Prune Paste: This is one of my favorites, check out the next section for a link to my recipe!
- Fruit nectar: these do have added sugars but they work to stimulate the bowels, so use here and there as needed.
- Nuts: if your child doesn’t have an allergy, add in regular daily servings (be sure not to give whole nuts to kids under 4 years, as they are a choking hazard.)
- Seeds: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds are all great additions to oatmeal, cereal or smoothies
- Legumes: kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas
- Vegetables: butternut squash, broccoli, artichoke hearts, sugar snap peas, sweet potatoes, carrots & pumpkin
- Probiotic-Rich Foods: kimchi, kefir, yogurt, pickled cucumbers, tempeh & miso
Recipes for constipated toddlers and kids
There are a lot of recipes floating around for constipation. Most of them are in the form of a smoothie, which is great if your kid likes smoothies. However, I have surprisingly found that many kids I work with, don’t want to drink them!
My favorite recipe for constipation is actually a prune paste. Years ago when I used to manage the kitchen in a senior home, this was one of my go-to recipes for them. Crazy I know, but the elderly and kids are the two groups most affected by constipation.
Prunes work well for constipation since they are natural laxatives. Whole prunes are great for older kids, however, for toddlers and babies, they pose a choking hazard. This is why I love prune paste for all ages!
Prune paste recipe for constipation
Prune paste is easy to make! You can mix it into oatmeal, spread it on toast or add it to baked goods like muffins, pancakes, etc. (use it to replace sugar!)
- pitted prunes (1 c)
- Dates (pitted) (1/2 c)
- Dried raisins (1/2 c)
- Water (1/2 c)
- Orange juice (1/2 c)
- Put water and juice in a bowl and add dried fruit, soak in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
- Pour everything into a food processor and blend until smooth.
- Store paste in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Does your child struggle with constipation? It’s always best to get a handle on things sooner rather than later. The longer you wait to get your kid’s bowels moving, the harder it can be.
3 thoughts on “Natural remedies for constipation in kids”
Thank you for this article. Really need help with my picky eater and will start introducing the above list.
The prune paste is great! My kids love it and they are older. It works well for us. )
Yes! I’m so glad to hear this, I think prune paste is an easy and often overlooked way to help constipation. Back in the day when I used to manage a kitchen in a healthcare facility, we used prune paste a lot! It’s great since it works well for babies, toddlers, bigger kids and adults too 🙂