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How to Help Prevent Constipation in Children

girl and boy drinking water

For this year’s Digestive Health Day, June Rogers MBE, Children’s Specialist Nurse at BBUK, talks about the ways in which you can help to prevent constipation in children.

We know that constipation is a common problem in childhood and once established treatment with laxatives will almost certainly be required to help resolve the problem. However, what we also know is that there are things that can be done to both reduce the incidence of constipation and help to stop it happening again once the child has been successfully treated.

The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) has identified that most people do not eat enough dietary fibre. As a low fibre intake may be one of the contributary factors for children developing constipation, it is important to ensure children have an appropriate intake of fibre for their age. The recommended average daily intake for fibre is 30g for adults however children will need proportionally less. The BNF recommended amounts are: 15g/day for children aged 2-5 years, 20g/day for children aged 5-11 years, 25g/day for children aged 11-16 years and 30g/day for adolescents aged 16-18 years. For preschool children, introduction of more fibre should be done gradually.

How Sorbitol Helps Children’s Digestive Health

Foods that are high in fibre include fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole-grain breads and cereals. It is suggested that those fruits containing sorbitol should be particularly encouraged.

Sorbitol is a type of carbohydrate which is a water-soluble compound that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It helps keep the poo soft by drawing water into the bowel thereby helping prevent constipation. Sorbitol is found in dried fruits, fruit with stones and in apples and pears. It is also commercially produced from glucose for use in packaged foods and beverages to provide sweetness, texture and moisture retention.

Recommended Amount of Water

As milk can fill children up and reduce their solid food intake they should be limited to around a pint (500mls) per day. Food should be eaten at regular mealtimes and children should be drinking around six to eight glasses of water-based drinks per day. Drinking just before eating may reduce the appetite, so offer drinks after meals rather than before. For children who find it difficult to increase the amount they drink, try to include foods that contain a high-water content, such as gravy, sauces, soup, jelly and ice lollies.

The Correct Position

Ensuring a correct position on the toilet will also help with bowel movements. A toilet seat reducer for smaller children will be beneficial as it allows the child to sit comfortably without the fear of ‘falling in’. A step or stool, which enables the feet to be flat with the knees higher than the hips, is also recommended. For younger children try and encourage sitting on the potty or toilet about 15 -20 minutes after meals to help establish a regular pattern of bowel movements.

Although dietary changes can help prevent constipation once constipation is established then dietary changes alone will not resolve the problem and treatment with laxatives is always recommended. If you feel your child does have a problem with constipation, then do seek further advice from your doctor or nurse.

Further Information on Preventing Constipation in Children

For further information please contact our Bladder & Bowel UK confidential helpline via email: bbuk@disabledliving.co.uk or call us on: 0161 607 8219.

For further information about Bladder & Bowel UK services and resources visit our website at www.bbuk.org.uk

To see the full range of Bladder & bowel UK information leaflets about children and young people’s bladder and bowel issues, including digestive health, visit https://www.bbuk.org.uk/children-young-people/children-resources/

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