Remedies for Constipation
Constipation is fairly common in young children and is easily treated using food, herbs, and lifestyle modifications. These can help whether the constipation is acute, occasional, or chronic. A few telltale signs of constipation in your child include: strain or pain when passing a movement, soiling underwear (soft stool can seep out around the hard stool which is stuck), fear or anxiety around toilet time, irritability, stomach ache, bloating, nausea, and loss of appetite.
The main contributing factors to childhood constipation are:
Dehydration: adequate water intake is an often overlooked cause of constipation. Aim for half of your child’s body weight in ounces per day ( a 40-pound child should drink 20 ounces of water daily - about 2.5 cups)
Lack of fiber: a diet lacking in an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables will lead to constipation due to a lack of water and fiber moving food along the digestive tract in a timely manner
Lack of movement: Exercise helps to stimulate bowel movements through increasing circulation throughout the body.
Emotional upset: fear or anxiety can tense up muscles of the large intestine and impair normal peristalsis. Try relaxation techniques such as singing, coloring, focused breathing, tapping
A sudden change in diet: A sudden introduction of a new food or medication can sometimes shock a small child’s delicate digestive system. Observe your child closely after making any such changes to their regular routine.
Correcting these underlying issues can help to correct chronic constipation. In more acute cases, there are herbal remedies that can be used to get movements flowing normally again.
Increase hydration- Lack of water will dry out stool, making it harder to move along the colon. Help your child relieve their constipation by keeping them very well hydrated throughout the day. Aim for ½ their body weight in ounces per day. For example, a 50 lb child should aim to drink 25 ounces of water per day.
Increase fiber- Fiber helps to add bulk to stool to give it more volume and momentum in its passage through the colon. Foods like flax and chia seeds are full of soluble fibers and easily incorporated into healthy snacks. Other high-fiber options include: brown rice, oats, citrus fruits, apples, all whole fruits, and vegetables.
Add probiotic-rich foods + a probiotic supplement - the microbiome is an important regulator of many activities in the body, including regularity. Adding probiotic rich foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and miso is an excellent way to promote a healthy gut microbiome. If your child is not interested in these foods, try a probiotic capsule formulated for children.
Prune Juice- prune juice is one of the most tried and true remedies to relieve constipation and is very effective for children. Give 4-6 oz of prune juice or prunes soaked in water to your child every 6-8 hours until results are seen.
Organic Coconut oil- Coconut oil is an incredible natural laxative that can be taken orally to treat constipation. It’s abundant medium chain fatty acids help to produce bowel movements and promote regularity. Start with ½ a tablespoon before breakfast and after dinner. If results aren’t seen, increase to 1 tablespoon.
Raw honey- honey is hygroscopic, meaning it has the ability to pull water out of the surrounding environment and carry it out of the body. This can assist in sweeping feces out of the body. Try giving your child a tsp + water.
Avoid known or suspected food allergens and sensitivities - the most common are wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and pork, but any food can be an allergen or cause a reaction. Avoiding foods that your child is allergic or sensitive to can help alleviate constipation - especially chronic constipation.
Fennel: Fennel is an excellent carminative herb. It promotes the expulsion of gas, relieving gas and bloating associated with constipation, and is also a mild laxative. Give your child a few cups of fennel seed tea for relief.
Slippery Elm: Slippery Elm is a mucilaginous herb--it has a gooey, viscous quality that not only soothes the lining of the digestive tract but adds bulk to stool and helps sweep it out of the body.
Make Slippery Elm ‘gruel’ by doing the following: Mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of powdered bark with 1/4 cup of cold water or juice to make a paste. Pour 1 1/2 cups of boiling water into the paste and continue stirring for 2 minutes with a spoon. You can add raw honey, lemon rind, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or other spices. Give your child a cup a day until symptoms diminish.
Aloe Vera Juice: has a healing and cleansing effect on the digestive tract and aids in forming soft stools (for easier elimination). Try ¼-½ cup in the morning and at night.
Ginger: stimulates the digestive system and eases the passage of food. Try making a ginger tea by bringing a small nub of ginger (peeled and coarsely chopped) to a boil in 1-1.5 cups of water. Once boiled, bring down to a simmer and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Cool and sip throughout the day.
Try castor oil packs - soak a flannel or organic cotton cloth in castor oil and apply to the belly, directly over the belly button area. Place a warm water bottle or heating pad (set on a warm setting, so as not to burn or overheat your child) on top and have your child rest for as long as possible (ideally, 30-60 minutes, if your child will hold still for that long!)
Try belly massages - rub your child’s belly in a clockwise fashion starting on the lower right side, up and above the belly button, then down the left side. Continue this motion for several minutes - you can use castor oil or a massage oil (coconut oil, jojoba oil or almond oil work well). Add one drop of peppermint essential oil as this often helps!
For younger children/babies - try bicycling their legs to help massage the lower colon and promote the release of trapped gas and movement of the bowel.
While constipation can be uncomfortable for kids, before reaching for over-the-counter irritants, consider the many natural remedies available to help provide relief to your child.