My preschooler has a hard time with bowel movements. What can I do to ease his constipation?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

When a child hasn’t had a bowel movement for a period of time and then has a painful bowel movement, he remembers the pain and tries hard to prevent it from happening again. He holds the next bowel movement for a couple of days which causes it to be even more painful, and the cycle repeats itself over and over.

But all those grunts and contorted facial and body expressions may be misinterpreted by parents as constipation when it is, in fact, the child trying to hold back and not have a bowel movement because of the painful memory of a previous bowel movement.

If you can get the child to eat fiber holding back will not be as easy and a pleasurable bowel movement may erase the bad memory. Once the cycle is broken, the child can get back on track.

A major contributor to this condition is the low-fiber American diet. This is the diet that’s high in meat, cheese, and dairy products and low in grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, which are the fiber foods.

There are two types of fiber, water-insoluble and water-soluble. In the intestines, fiber (especially water-insoluble fiber) acts like a cleansing agent. It picks up water which increases stool bulk and allows it to move through the intestines more efficiently. It really is the broom that sweeps through the intestine, keeps it contracting well, and maintains regularity. Soluble fiber, such as that found in oat bran, is useful in lowering cholesterol.

In childhood, and over the course of a lifetime, a high fiber diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains will provide other benefits besides preventing constipation. It will also decrease the incidence of diverticulosis and colon cancer because it keeps the intestines clean.

Fecal matter is meant to move through the intestine and out of the body fairly quickly. When it doesn’t because of low-fiber constipation, children feel out of sorts and they act out in school and at home. Later, it leads to the development of adolescent and adult diseases. It raises cholesterol and increases the absorption of fat.

Fiber in the diet is the remedy with the added benefit of making the children feel a little bit fuller and less likely to snack.

Some of the best sources of fiber are:
Oat bran Broccoli
Wheat bran Brussels Sprouts
Brown rice Cauliflower
Dried Figs Spinach
Pears Lentil Beans
Raspberries Kidney Beans
Apples Almonds