The toddler stage of development begins around 12 months of age and lasts until a child is around three years old. During this stage your child is rapidly growing and changing both physically and mentally. This is an important time where your child’s fine and gross motor skills, as well as cognitive abilities, are increasing dramatically.
At this stage, your child is starting to become pickier about the foods that they will taste and try as their preferences are beginning to develop. This is also the age when your child will begin to exert their will in an effort to gain more independence.
No matter how healthy your child may be, the rapid changes that occur during these years increase the chances that at some point your child will develop a common malady known as toddler constipation.
How to Tell if your Child is Truly Constipated
Most children will produce 1 to 2 solid, well-formed stools each day. It is still perfectly normal, however, if your child skips producing stool for one or more days, as some children only need to go around 3 times a week. The way to tell if your child is actually constipated is to check the quality of the actual stool.
Normal bowel movements at this age should be relatively soft, and your child should be able to produce them without much straining or effort. If your child has to strain to produce stools, and, if they appear to be hard and pebble-like in appearance, or if there is any blood on the outside of the stool, it is likely that your child is actually constipated.
Common Causes of Childhood Constipation
There are a number of causes of childhood constipation. The most common causes include the lack of fiber in the diet, a change in their regular diet, dehydration, a recent illness, the use of antibiotics or other medications.
Since toddlers are growing in independence, some children may even hold on to their stools and resist producing a bowel movement because they are afraid of using the toilet. Since the stool is more difficult to pass when constipated, your child may hold on to the stool longer because of the fear of pain, which actually makes it more difficult for them to pass the stool.
Rarely, chronic toddler constipation is a symptom of a significant condition, such as a food intolerance or an actual illness. If your child is constipated and also has other symptoms such as a fever, an abdomen that feels hard and distended, and significant abdominal pain, or frequently produces stools with visible blood, black tarry stools, or stools with a lot of mucus, it’s important to consult a doctor right away.
Tips for Dealing with Toddler Constipation Naturally
While most parents worry if their child fails to produce some stool each day, it’s important to remember that most cases of constipation that develop during childhood are not serious. Most of the time, constipation that develops during childhood is temporary in nature and can be treated at home with natural remedies.
A frequent cause of hard to pass stools is dehydration. Simply increasing your toddler’s intake of water and other liquids is a simple, effective and natural remedy for most cases of constipation.
Increasing the amount of fiber in your child’s diet can also ease constipation by adding bulk to the stool and making it easier to pass. To naturally increase the fiber in your child’s diet breads and pastas made from whole grains are good choices.
Vegetables such as cooked beans, lentils, peas, broccoli and leafy greens such as spinach will increase fiber in the diet. Whole fruits and their juices, such as apples, pears, mangos, oranges, apricots, figs, raisins and even prunes are good choices to increase fiber and relieve constipation. Dried flax seeds can also be sprinkled over your child’s food to naturally increase fiber.
Increase Level of Physical Activities
Physical activities such as walking, jumping, running, and otherwise playing are all stimulating to the bowels, simply increasing your child’s level of physical activity each day, particularly after a full meal, can make it easier for your child to be able to produce stools when they go to the bathroom.
Use Rewards to Make it a More Pleasant Experience
Some children are indeed afraid to go to the bathroom, or, are too busy playing with toys and so they don’t want to interrupt their play in order to go. Frequently encourage your child throughout the day to take time out to go and make an effort to make the experience more pleasant for them.
Let your child use a smaller potty chair so that they are less afraid, or, place a small stool beneath their feet to help them be able to produce stools more easily.
Praise your child when they do produce stool, and offer a reward or special treat, such as playing their favorite program on DVD, listening to their favorite song, or reading them their favorite story.
When Natural Remedies Fail
A course of constipation may take a few weeks to resolve. If your child continues to have chronic bouts with constipation, it is usually a good idea to ask your child’s doctor if a stool softener is safe to use. If your child is taking prescriptions to treat a condition, your doctor may consider a substitution or other change to help your child to obtain relief from constipation.