Abdominal pain and discomfort during a visit to the bathroom are symptoms that we’ve all experienced due to various digestive disorders, but while we know how to recognize and treat these problems, we may have trouble recognizing and treating digestive disorders when our children suffer from them.
Children and toddlers suffer from constipation or diarrhea many times throughout their lives, due to several reasons, such as eating spoiled or unhealthy food, lack of hygiene, and even emotional problems. The following comprehensive guide will help you identify when it’s important to see a doctor and how to treat these problems at home according to age.
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal problems in adults, and it occurs quite often in children of different ages. The frequency of normal bowel movements in children varies with age. In young babies, there should be bowel movements several times a day, and at around one year of age the frequency goes down to once or twice a day and as the child gets older it reduces to once a day. Constipation is usually caused when the movements of the colon can’t push the digested food out of the body. In such a case the waste accumulates and its removal becomes painful and unpleasant. Some children may choose to avoid going to the bathroom in such a situation, and as a result, the problem may be further exacerbated.
Children who suffer from constipation will spend a lot of time in the bathroom, or go only three times a week or less. Some may also suffer from abdominal pain and swelling, bleeding from the anus or even expressing concern and opposition to sitting on the toilet. It is important to know that in some children prolonged constipation can lead to fecal discharge meaning that such a phenomenon can also be associated with constipation that has not been treated in time. In babies, attention should be paid to the differences in frequency, quantity, and texture - since babies' movements are often soft, the appearance of hard discharge along with signs of restlessness may be a sign of constipation.
If you suspect that your child is constipated, it is important to consult your doctor to see if there is a need for short-term medication to help soften their stool. However, in addition to visiting the doctor, there are also important things you can do at home, as detailed in the following sections.
The following steps can be performed at home as a treatment for mild constipation. However keep in mind that the best treatment is prevention, so some of these tips can be implemented on a daily basis. The recommendations are divided according to age, with the section designated for toddlers suitable for infants a few months old until the child is fully potty trained. Remember: Under no circumstances should children be given laxatives without medical consultation.
1. Check changes in the menu: Moving to solid foods or adding new foods to a baby’s diet may lead to constipation in some babies and infants. Check if you’ve made any dietary changes, and try to look for alternatives. In some cases, bananas and rice cereals, which are two very common transitional foods, may be the cause.
2. Encourage physical activity: Babies can’t go to the gym just yet, but it is important to help them move in order to stimulate bowel activity. You can help them do this by encouraging them to crawl or helping them move their legs in circular movements as they lie on their backs.
3. Drinking fruit juices: Plums, apples, and pears contain sugar which is absorbed in the body, passes through the intestine and increases the water content in the stool. Try to add half a cup of natural juice to your toddler's daily diet, but don’t exceed the recommended amount to avoid bloating or gas. With the exception of prune juice, juices are less effective for children over the age of 3, since their intestines absorb these sugars more efficiently and therefore, they are less affected by them.
4. Food fortified with dietary fiber: Whole-grain or high-fiber foods speed up digestive activity and are therefore helpful in constipation. You can substitute your children's cereal from simple grains to whole grains and offer them high-fiber fruits such as apricots, yams, peaches, plums, beans, peas, broccoli, and spinach. For babies, you can combine some applesauce or carrot puree in their food.
5. Reduce dairy products: Consuming large amounts of milk or cheese can lead to constipation in some infants, so you should try to reduce the number of dairy products and see if this affects the frequency of bowel movements.
6. Practice proper use of the toilet: If you suspect that the cause of constipation is fear of the bathroom, start getting your child used to sitting on the toilet by having them sit on it for at least 10 minutes a day. The best time to do this is 30 minutes after breakfast or dinner. You can let your children read a book or do some other activity so they don’t get bored, and you may at first have to be there to encourage them. Consult your pediatrician about a suitable potty training seat which can also encourage bowel movements.
1. Reduce the intake of refined carbohydrates: Reduce the amount of white rice, pasta, and white bread your child eats. All of these may slow the movement of the intestine and make it difficult for the food to pass through it properly.
2. Reduce dairy products: Children who already choose their food independently may eat very large amounts of dairy by way of desserts, ice creams, and cheeses, as these are all available foods in the refrigerator. In this case, even older children should consider and limit the number of dairy products they consume. If you see that there is a connection between the quantities and the state of constipation, consult a dietitian to find out which other sources can provide your children with vitamin D.
3. Make sure they drink a lot of water: Many of us don’t remind our children to drink, but dehydration is a real danger that can lead to constipation and impede the passage of food through the body. Put a full bottle of water in each of your children's bags, and make sure that they are careful to drink throughout the day, even when they are home.
4. Encourage exercise: Exercising is very effective in stimulating intestinal activity, therefore, children who suffer from constipation frequently may benefit from regular exercise.
5. Treatment of emotional aspects: Just like us, some children may suffer from constipation as a result of stress or anxiety, as well as if they feel embarrassed to go to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson. Talk to them and see if there are issues that require your involvement.
Diarrhea is also a very common problem in children, which may occur alongside other symptoms or as a problem in itself. Diarrhea in children can occur as a result of poisoning or sensitivity to a particular food, the penetration of pollutants into the digestive system or worms. Because viral diarrhea is very contagious, many children in the same school or class may often suffer from it simultaneously.
In toddlers, diarrhea is defined as very soft stool twice the amount of regular discharge, and in children, at least three watery discharges a day. In addition to irregular discharges, many children will also suffer from nausea, fever or headaches. Viral diarrhea will usually be very liquidy, whereas bacterial diarrhea may be accompanied by blood and abdominal pain. Diarrhea caused by worms will be accompanied by itching or a rash in the buttocks.
Go to the doctor if diarrhea doesn’t stop within a day or two among toddlers, or 3-4 days among children, if the child or toddler appears indifferent and their skin is dry, and if the diarrhea is accompanied by a fever that doesn’t go down or vomiting and there is a fear of dehydration. In infants, it is very important to pay attention to frequency of urination from the moment their discharge changes. If the baby doesn’t urinate for several hours but continues to have diarrhea, they might be dehydrated, so contact your doctor as soon as possible.
It is strongly recommended that children and infants suffering from diarrhea be kept home from school or kindergarten in order to receive the best treatment and avoid the risk of dehydration. There are several things you can do at home to treat diarrhea and help prevent it.
2. Avoid dehydration during diarrhea: Make sure your baby drinks plenty to prevent dehydration in case he or she already has diarrhea. If drinking causes nausea or restlessness, have the toddler drink in small amounts at intervals of 20-30 minutes.
3. Food substitutes during diarrhea: Consult a doctor about replacing their formula. A lactose-free formula might help.