Everything that goes in must come out. So, it’s time to talk poo! If you’re a parent I’m sure you have a funny or gross poo story (usually both), but what I’m talking about is what poo can tell us about how a kid’s diet is affecting them and what to do when poo isn’t happening. Poo really has a lot to say – it can tell us if we’re dehydrated, not eating enough fiber or fruits or veggies. It is indicative of how well we are digesting our food and whether or not your kid’s food agrees with them. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the smell, shape, color and firmness (or lack of) can tell us a lot about the body’s level of balance and health.
WARNING: This post is going to get pretty graphic so if you’re eating or if reading about poop gives you the willies, you might want to come back later.
Normal poo in a baby or child who eats solid food should be formed and eliminated in long pieces. Size and shape will depend on the age of the child and the quantity of food they’re eating. Color will vary depending on the child’s diet but is usually brown. It should be easy to eliminate and when wiping it shouldn’t take much to clean their bottom. It should have an odor, but not an offensive one. Your child should have a bowel movement anywhere from 1 to 3 times per day.
How Do You Know if Your Kid is Constipated?
In TCM, we view constipation on a spectrum ranging from difficulty passing stool to irregular elimination that can cause discomfort and abdominal pain. Dry, hard, small “rabbit” poop or large bulky difficult to pass poops are not normal. If you’re child doesn’t have a poop every day or struggles and strains when they go then they’re constipated.
What Causes Constipation?
There are many causes of constipation. Most commonly, though, it’s from the diet. Short term it can be caused by illness & fever. Longer term constipation may be due to imbalances in the gut flora or food sensitivities.
These are the most common dietary culprits:
- Too many white flour foods or refined carbohydrates
- Not enough fiber, fruits or vegetables
- Too many rich foods, especially pasteurized dairy products
- Too many cold foods such as ice cream or frozen yogurt
- Inadequate water intake
The health of your kid’s gut is just as important as what you feed them. Sometimes imbalances in the gut flora or issues digesting foods are the culprit. Food sensitivities create low level inflammation in the gut which contributes to bowel dysfunction. Low levels of probiotics in the gut can be problematic, too.
Just like adults, kids may have shy bowels and avoid having a bowel movement at school. Even babies can learn to try and stop a bowel movement if it’s painful. Delaying bowel movements increases the time stool remains in the large intestine, drying it out and making it harder to pass later.
Conventional medicine usually recommends things like fiber, stool softeners, milk of magnesia, bulking or stimulating laxatives. Don’t want to go there? Want to heal the root cause of the issue? Then you’ve come to the right place.
First things first, you need to help you child poop now. Start here:
- Pediatric Tuina Massage – Massaging the belly in a clockwise direction around the belly button along with several other massage techniques on the back and hands can naturally stimulate the bowels to move. Tuina massage is safe, natural and effective for treating constipation. For instruction please see my post Pediatric Tuina Massage for Constipation.
- Soak prunes overnight and then serve with hot whole grain cereal the next day. For toddlers 18 months or younger give them a teaspoon of the water the prunes were soaked in to avoid too much purging or else they may have diarrhea.(2)
- For toddlers 18 mother and older and children, 1/2 cup prune juice + 1 TBS lemon juice + 1 cup water in the evening before bed. This method may cause diarrhea in babies 12 months and under so do not use it for them. (2)
- In babies 12 months and under you can gently stimulate the anus to help encourage bowel movements.
- Herbal formulas containing extracts of figs, prunes, ginger, caraway and coriander can be beneficial. There are many Chinese herbal formulas for constipation. Because they are so specific to the type of constipation, I recommend consulting a pediatric acupuncturist and herbalist who can prescribe the right formula.
CAUTION: Be careful in using laxative remedies in babies 18 months and under to avoid diarrhea. I don’t recommend the use of stimulating laxative herbs such as senna or cascara sagrada in children as they can cause abdominal cramping, pain and discomfort.
Next you need to treat the root of constipation with these 5 food groups:
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) – make sure your child is getting enough essential fatty acids to help lubricate the bowels and soften stool naturally to make it easier to go. Your child can get EFAs from walnuts, almonds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds. Coconut, coconut oil and avocados also provide a healthy source of EFAs. You may also want to give them a fish oil supplement on a daily basis as well.
- Fermented Foods – such as miso, whole milk yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, kefir soda, and other fermented fruits and vegetables provide a natural source of live probiotics. Lactobacillus and bifidis are “good” bacteria that do many things to help our bodies, including digesting food. If you don’t have enough or the right balance digestive problems result. You may want to also give them a regular probiotic supplement.
- Fruits: pears, apples, apricots, prunes, papaya, coconut and figs help lubricate the intestines and provide fiber (1)
- Vegetables: spinach, cabbage, sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower, alfalfa sprouts, beets, asparagus help lubricate and promote bowel movements. (1)
- Foods high in Magnesium – you know, the stuff they hate, like dark leafy greens.
Fresh homemade juices, green smoothies and serving fermented fruit over stuff they like are a few ways to add necessary foods if your child is picky and doesn’t want to eat their greens. Make sure to offer water all day and avoid store-bought processed, sugary juices.
Recipe Ideas from Real Food Bloggers
The best way to treat constipation is to get your kids eating more of the right foods. Here are some recipes to help your kids get the fruits, vegetables and essential fatty acids they need:
RealFoodForager.com recommends her Coconut Blueberry Pudding that is dairy free, Specific Carbohydrate and GAPS diet friendly. It looks delicious!
OhLardy.com had a variety of fermented fruit and vegetable recipes to help enjoyably increase their consumption of fermented foods:
Fermented Cranberry Sauce – delicious over yogurt
Fermented Berries can be served over pancakes, waffles, ice cream or yogurt and added to smoothies
Dilly Carrots can be eaten like a pickle. It’s a two-for-one carrots + fermentation!
Fermented OJ – because what kid doesn’t love a fizzy orange drink! Even though this is fermented, don’t go too overboard on cold juices when you kid is constipated.
MorganWellness.com (that’s me!) – I recommend these GF Flax Chocolate Chip Muffins they are yummy and make a great breakfast or lunch box treat.
CulturedPalate.com recommends probiotic friendly recipes:
Fermented Carrots – You’ll also like this recipe for fermented carrots.
If your child has chronic constipation it may be a sign of a more serious condition such as congenitally narrowed anus, congenital megacolon or fecal impaction and you should seek medical care for you child.
What Kitchen Remedies Do You Use if Your Kid is Constipated?
Please Join the Conversation & Leave a Comment Below!
(1) Paul, Pritchford. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. 3rd. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002. Print.
(2) Janet, Zand, Robert Rountree and Rachel Walton. Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child. 2nd. New York: Penguin Group Inc, 2003. Print.
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