Constipation: The Messy Truth

Fall is one of my favorite times of year. I love the change in the light, the colors, the crisp air. I also love the produce: the apples, the squashes, the sweet and white potatoes.

Unfortunately, though, I have also noticed that Fall seems to be a time of constipation. For my family and for a number of my clients’ families as well, it has become a time of worry or even tension in the house because all of a sudden these kids who have been solidly potty trained (some even for years) start having accidents. Some wet the bed, some have pee accidents, and some have poop accidents. I don’t know why it seems to happen more in the Fall, I have my theories, but for some reason it does seem to be a pattern. So let’s talk about some of the symptoms of constipation and then what you can do to help your little one (or yourself!) through it.

First, it is important to note that I am not a doctor and my advice here is not medical advice, but rather sharing the knowledge I have gained through helping my own family and my clients’ families with this issue. If you have any major concerns about your child’s digestion or bowel movements, please talk to your doctor!

There are many ways that constipation can show itself with kids:

  • Your child poops less than three times a week, or less often than normal for him/her
  • Your child complains of stomach aches
  • Your child starts having pee accidents or expressing a constant desire to pee
  • Your child starts wetting the bed
  • You find trace amounts of poop in their underwear or they start having poop accidents
  • Your child experiences pain while pooping
  • Your child’s poop is hard, tiny pebbles, or very large

And there are a number of reasons that constipation can start:

  • Diet or a change in diet
  • Stress
  • Dehydration
  • Holding on to poop/ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom because they don’t want to stop playing, don’t want to poop in a bathroom away from home, or are, for some other reason, anxious about going to the bathroom

So what do you do about it? For most kids, constipation can be solved at home.  Here are some of the things that we have found to be very helpful:

  • Drink lots more water. When our bodies are dehydrated, less moisture goes into our gut to help to keep poop moist. So it becomes hard and then is more painful to get out.  If your kid refuses to drink plain water, try diluting juice or offering sparkling water as a special treat.
  • Fiber, fiber, fiber. 
    • Fruits such as berries, kiwis, pears, apples (for some, for others this is constipating so pay close attention), oranges, dates, figs, and prunes are all great
    • Vegetables such as sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green beans, sweet corn, and winter squash are especially good
    • Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black, white, and pinto beans are great
    • Whole grains such as oatmeal, granola, quinoa, wild rice, shredded wheat, and whole wheat pasta are helpful as well
    • Flax seed. Ground flax seed/flax meal can be thrown into cereal, oatmeal, and smoothies for an added fiber boost!
  • Have “potty time.” For some kids, it can be very helpful to have a certain time of day when they go to try to poop. As their body’s become accustomed to it, they are more likely to be able to go on a regular basis. This is called bio-feedback.
  • Don’t get angry. This one is really hard. We think we are through with the potty training and all of the sudden there is poop or pee to clean up. It can be infuriating! It is important to understand that our kids are not willfully having accidents. They are already feeling ashamed and possibly scared and when they say, “I didn’t know,” they mean it. When bodies are constipated, pressure is put onto the sphincter and it can get to a point where the sphincter is so stretched that it doesn’t feel the pressure anymore and things just slip out.  Similarly, if the bowels are packed with poop, that can put pressure on the bladder, which in turn means that pee gets pushed out. So as much as possible, try to stay calm. The more anxiety we add to the situation, the harder (no pun intended) it becomes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Has your family come across constipation issues? How have you handled them? What has been helpful?

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