Stool. Feces. Scat. Poop. It goes by many names, and everyone does it. Some days it’s smooth and relieving, other days it’s hard and requires almost popping a vein to release.
While poop might not be the most—ahem, polite—topic, what our stool can tell us about our health and nutrition is certainly something to talk about. In this two-part series, we go over the bowel-basics and talk to some experts who answer everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the brown stuff.
Constipation – it’s normal every so often
A common misconception is that if you don’t pass a bowel movement (BM) every day, you’re constipated. This is not always the case. Normal bowel movements can range anywhere from three times a day to three times a week; the frequency varies from person to person. When it comes to pooping, the texture, and feeling after going far outweigh the frequency.
Surprisingly, it is relatively normal and common for people to experience occasional “functional” constipation: about 42 million people in the United States experience constipation, making it one of the most commonly reported gastrointestinal problems (1). This type of constipation is often caused by poor diet or dehydration and is a common issue seen in many pediatricians’ offices. In fact, between 4-26% of children deal with constipation (2).
Chronic Constipation –when you just can’t go
Chronic constipation, on the other hand, is abnormal and concerning, as it can often lead to major health problems. Not being physically active, traveling often, being older in age, taking medications (such as antacids, diuretics, iron supplements, narcotics to treat pain, antidepressants, or antihypertensives), and having a habit of ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom can all increase your risk of developing chronic constipation (1, 3). Being aware of these common causes of constipation can help you figure out when your pooping patterns are cause for concern.
Some common symptoms of chronic constipation include: (3)
SuperKids Nutrition caught up with childhood nutrition and feeding expert Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN, author of Fearless Feeding and Eat Like A Champion. Jill has vast experience from infants to teens with her work in a private nutrition counseling practice and as a consulting author. Here she discusses the full scoop on poop, and how to prevent and treat chronic constipation.
What are some symptoms and behavioral signs a child may exhibit that may indicate they have GI issues, like constipation?
The following are symptoms that may indicate constipation in a child: Stools which are hard and/or dry and/or difficult or painful to pass, abdominal pain, tummy cramps, gassiness, many days without a bowel movement, soiling (diarrhea or stool in the underwear, also called encopresis), poor appetite and eating, cranky behavior, notable efforts to make a bowel movement (your child may actually be trying to hold it in), and bed-wetting.
What are your diet, fitness, and behavioral recommendations for improving constipation in kids, tweens, and teens?
The over-arching goal of treating constipation is to relieve it and re-establish normal stooling patterns. Typically, the method used to treat constipation will depend on your child’s age and how serious the problem is. A high fiber diet, plenty of water, and exercise may be beneficial to the child who struggles with constipation. However, bulking your child’s diet up with fiber may not always work initially. Added fiber may bring too much bulk to the stool, stretching the rectum and colon and interfering with the sense of needing to go, especially in children who tend to withhold their stool.
Sensible recommendations include adding more fruit and vegetables to the diet (this will give fiber and water together), Leave the skin on produce, swap out refined grains like white bread for whole grain versions such as whole wheat bread and fiber-rich cereals. Make sure your child is getting enough fluids every day, and an extra cup or two won’t hurt. Last, your child should stay active and get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
What are some strategies to alleviate constipation in children who are picky eaters or have a low intake of fruit and vegetables?
Try using nectars, rather than juice. They are more concentrated with sugar and may stimulate a bowel movement. Prune and pear juices are good sources of fiber and can also be a bowel stimulant. Warm these up a bit for extra effect.
Blend vegetables into a pureed soup; add frozen fruit to smoothies, or give a snack of dried fruit like cherries (if age-appropriate). Raisins have been found to contain tartaric acid which may help increase transit time in the gut (the speed at which food moves through the gastrointestinal tract). One small box of raisins each day may make a difference!