Chronic constipation in children is an emerging public health concern that is commonly overlooked by parents. If your child has fewer than three bowel movements in a week or an unusual poop size or texture, it needs to be addressed.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what kids are really feeling and whether it is just a passing phase, so we brush it off and dismiss it as being difficult. But this happens because not many parents recognize or are aware of underestimated diseases such as chronic constipation, much less, talk about it openly.
Most Malaysians’ diet is high in carbohydrates and fats, the same goes to our children, who more often than not despise even the sight of any vegetables, and this leads to constipation.
So how can you tell when a child is constipated?
According to Webmd.com, a child who has a bowel movement fewer than three times a week (or less often than he typically does), and whose stools are hard and difficult to pass, is constipated. American Academy of Pediatrics also mentions that any child with stools that are large, hard, dry, and accompanied by painful bowel movements, soiling between bowel movements, or blood on the outside of the stool may have constipation.
Chronic constipation happens when your child’s constipation last for two weeks or more and is absolutely vital that you see your paediatrician.
In Cleveland, a 6-year-old boy has suffered from constipation ever since he was potty training. At 2 years old, the boy had a painful bowel movement and after that, his mother noticed that he stopped having any, she said. She then took him to the doctor who prescribed stool softeners and medicine that ended up not working.
By the time he was 4 years old, his mum would find stools on the floor because it was coming out of his pants when he was running around and playing. According to Dr Reema Gulati of MetroHealth System paediatric gastroenterologist, this was because, after years of holding his stool in, his colon and rectum have stretched and now could not feel when he needed to go to the toilet.
Effects of stool build-up in the body
Impacted or build-up stool in the body can have many effects, which include abdominal pain, loss of appetite and even bladder infections.
But that’s not the end of it. Many sources and gastroenterologist stressed that chronic constipation can lead not just to physical problems but emotional ones too.
Take the case of the 6 years old for example, a child can certainly feel emotionally upset by the "accidents" they have when they soil their clothes. They usually do not have control of this leakage of stool. Their self-esteem and interactions with other people can be affected. Children are often ashamed or embarrassed. They may avoid going to school and even playing with friends.
Because of this, Dr Reema Gulati advises parents of young children, especially in the early stages of potty training- to keep the experience positive and never to reprimand.
Food, Drink & Changes in Habit
Treating and preventing your child’s constipation can be done with some simple changes in their diet and habits.
According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, dietary fibre is in the forefront of this. You can increase your child’s fibre intake by adding fruits, vegetables, cereals and grains. Some fruit juices such as pear and prune can also be helpful, and you should also make sure your child drinks more water.
Staying active is another factor that might help. Your toddler or child should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
But research in Sweden and Scotland found that the reason behind chronic constipation is not just about food and level of activity but the gut environment. So if you really want to relieve children of constipation, keeping the intestinal environment balanced is another good place to start.
You can get your child’s gut working at a healthy level by giving them food or drinks with prebiotics that stimulates the growth and/or activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut and to also establish a good toilet routine.
Having your child sit on the toilet for 10 minutes at the same time each day helps create a routine and uses the body's natural tendency to move the bowels.
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