Toddler constipation is, unfortunately, a common problem. There are many reasons that toddlers become constipated, ranging from food to a newfound ability to control things including their body, potty training related trauma, and potentially a medical concern. Just to name a few of the things that can lead to a constipated toddler!
But before we get into some specific foods and other things that can help relieve constipation, let’s address what we actually consider constipation and why you might be seeing it.
Symptoms of Constipation
Simply not having bowel movements every day is not considered a sign of constipation in toddlers. Having regular bowel movements every day is our goal, yes, but fewer bowel movements doesn’t automatically mean constipation.
Instead, evaluate if your child is having fewer bowel movements than they normally would, hard stools that are more pellet like, dry stools, excessive straining or stomach pain, blood or painful bowel movements. These are more accurate signs of constipation.
Causes of Constipation in Toddlers
There are many things that can cause constipation. One of the most common causes in toddlers is actually potty training! They are learning that they can control their bodies and bowel movements, and sometimes it ends up not being so pleasant for them.
They might have a hard stool one day, and then do their best to avoid that feeling the next day.
They don’t have the logic to think about what else might affect things, they simply are going to do their best to avoid the pain they felt in the future.
Sometimes it’s literally that they got scared of a public toilet and realized they could hold in their poop, and then just continued to do that.
Especially if they are a child that gets sucked into playing and doesn’t want to stop what they’re doing to go to the bathroom. Knowing that they can control when their body goes poop is a game changer for them.
It is very easy for toilet training to affect a child’s bowel habits on so many levels! From power struggles with you to fear, it runs the gamut.
If you are in this boat, yes, there might be some lifestyle changes that you can make to your child’s diet and their movement throughout the day.
But if your child is experiencing withholding, as we call it, the root cause is more of a behavior and there isn’t going to just be a magic switch that fixes it. As hard as that can be to hear!
Foods That Contribute to Constipation
Let’s set aside the behavior causes for a second and look at the foods you are offering your child for a second.
There are some foods that might contribute to constipation. There are also ones that just don’t help solve it, but aren’t necessarily the cause.
Things like fast foods that are very greasy without a lot of fiber in them are a big contributor. That’s not to say don’t ever eat them! Just know that if your child is suffering from constipation currently, they aren’t doing them any favors.
Another common contributor is refined grains like white bread. These are going to be more from the side of lacking a lot of fiber.
High fiber foods are something we know helps to relieve constipation. So avoiding some of the foods that really don’t have much fiber, like white bread, in favor of ones, like whole grain bread, that do is key.
Dairy and Constipation in Toddlers
Dairy products are another category that can cause issues for some kids. I always like to caveat this one, because it is not an across the board cause of constipation.
For many kids dairy products have no effect at all. But in a small group of kids, dairy products like milk and cheese can actually cause constipation.
I always recommend focusing on the other foods and strategies first. If nothing is helping, then look at whether removing dairy products or not giving your child much milk in general might be able to help.
How to Help a Constipated Toddler
First thing first, as hard as it is to watch your child in pain and struggling, know that more often than not, none of these are going to be a magic pill.
Don’t expect to implement a change to your child’s diet, or increase their movement and have everything get back to normal.
Constipation can be a complicated thing with many different causes. I’m focusing on actionable things that you can implement yourself at home. But sometimes, you really will need additional help from something like a stool softener.
The best thing you can do is make sure to talk to your child’s doctor as well as implementing the tips here. Sometimes there is an underlying physical concern. Sometimes it’s turned into chronic constipation and you need something else to help them return to normal.
Whatever it is, do your best to be patient and keep working on what might work for your own child!
Implement a Consistent Toilet Routine
Once your toddler is potty trained, one of the best things you can do is to start a toilet routine. Sit them on the toilet every couple of hours, even if you or they don’t think they have to go.
Build it into your routine. However it works for you and your child, whether it’s right when they wake up, before lunch, before bed, just work on being consistent.
That can help to signal to their brain that this is when they go to the bathroom.
Focus On Fluid
Getting enough fluids is key to helping your toddler with constipation. Many kids don’t get enough water! Focus on offering water to your child throughout the day and gently encouraging them to drink it.
But also keep in mind that fluid doesn’t have to be just about them drinking plenty of water. Serving juicy fresh fruit, soups, or anything else that has a high water content can also help contribute to their fluid needs.
If they are still drinking breast milk that is another great form of fluid outside of water, and has the added benefit of serving as a natural laxative.
At the end of the day, a nice juicy watermelon is something that many kids love! Just because it isn’t straight water doesn’t mean it isn’t helping with their constipation and meeting their fluid needs.
Fiber Is Key!
Getting enough dietary fiber is huge for helping with constipation. The recommendation for kids 1-3 years of age is to get 19g of fiber a day. Once they are 4, the recommendation goes up to 25g.
I never recommend focusing strictly on the grams of fiber your child is eating though, as that can very quickly stress you out. Instead, focus on offering fiber-rich foods like whole grains and fruits and vegetables.
To help with bulking up their stools to make them easier to pass, focus on serving good sources of insoluble fiber. That generally includes things like beans, peas, berries, and leafy greens.
Get In Some Movement
The third thing to focus on with helping constipation is movement. Getting enough physical activity can help your child to more easily pass their stools. The more your child sits, the harder it is going to be for them to have a bowel movement!
Encourage regular play outside whenever you can, find some things for gross motor play inside, or even just encourage them to have regular dance parties with you. Putting a focus on movement will help in so many ways, with constipation and lots of other things.
The Best Foods To Help With Toddler Constipation
And now, let’s get to some actual foods you can add to your child’s diet to help with constipation!
Most of these will function as a kind of natural laxative. Do your best to incorporate these into your child’s diet, as well as fiber-rich foods (like whole wheat bread and fruits and vegetables) in general.
But don’t be surprised if there are foods outside of this list that help your toddler’s constipation. Everyone will be different and different foods will work for them!
Foods to help with constipation:
Have you found a food outside of these that helps relieve your toddler’s constipation? Let me know!
Cherry tomatoes always worked like magic in my house!
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