#12: Constipation: Foods to Help Kids Poop

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Constipation often improves with some diet changes, so I’m sharing the top foods to help kids poop!

One of the things that no one told me before I became a mom is that I would be elbows deep in poop for SEVERAL years. It’s a very non-glamorous part of parenthood but it’s unavoidable. So we have to talk about it!

As a dietitian, one of the biggest issues that I hear with kids is constipation. 

So today we are going to cover:

  • Signs of constipation and how that affects your little one’s appetite
  • What foods can be constipating
  • Non-food causes of constipation
  • How to improve constipation: which foods help kids poop
  • Non-food remedies for constipation

This is Feeding Toddlers Made Easy, the Mama Knows Nutrition podcast by me, Kacie Barnes, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for kids. You can call the podcast voicemail anytime to leave a question for me to answer in a future episode, 469-552-5527.

Note: this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let’s hear today’s question from Grace:

QUESTION: Constipated toddler, flaxseed, what to do?

Hi Kacie, this is Grace. My daughter is going to be 22 months old, nearly 2. She’s always struggled with constipation. I took some of your advice from Instagram and I bought some flaxseed to put on her food, but to be honest, I have no idea how much to use or how to go about helping her with the constipation. If you can answer some of the questions for me, that would be great. I really appreciate it and love your Instagram page. Have a good one.

ANSWER

I did a post recently on instagram about how flax is a helpful constipation fighter. So I will definitely give more details on that when I talk about high-fiber foods that help constipation.

Signs of constipation

  • Infrequent bowel movements: fewer BMs than normal (this can vary by the kid)
  • Hard stools
  • Ball like poop
  • Large (clogging toilet)
  • Straining
  • Belly pain with BM
  • Impacted- can even present as diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Low appetite

Foods that are constipating 

Too much dairy:

Limit to 2 to 3 servings of dairy per day. This includes milk. If they drink more than about 20 ounces or 2.5 cups a day, it can contribute to constipation. So for example, 2 cups of milk and one other dairy serving (yogurt or cheese) would be as much as I recommend in a day. 

Too little fiber:

Foods made with white flour like bread, white pasta, pancakes, bagels, and waffles will be low in fiber. If they are whole grain they will have more fiber, but if they’re made with regular flour they will be low in fiber.

Meats are also low in fiber. It’s okay to eat meat, just keep it in mind if they eat something like a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread, they won’t be getting much fiber. This is okay for them to eat, you just want to make sure you’re adding fiber rich options on the side.

Too many processed foods:

Foods like chips, cookies, crackers, and lunchables come to mind! Most traditional snacks or pre-packaged meals are low in fiber. 

Sudden diet changes:

Starting solid foods is often a time when parents first notice constipation. Your pediatrician may recommend a small dose of fruit juice like prune juice to help with the transition.

If you decide to make a big change like trying the paleo diet, or the Whole30, you may notice constipation as a side effect. Even though those are typically high fiber diets, a sudden change to high fiber from low fiber may cause constipation.

If a doctor has recommended any sort of elimination diet, you may also notice constipation when eliminating certain food groups.

For more specific examples on foods to avoid, read this post.

Non-food reasons for toddler constipation

Not drinking enough fluid:

Bodies need plenty of fluid for many reasons, one of which is to maintain regular bowel movements. Young kids need at least 1 cup of water a day per year of age. If they don’t tend to drink enough water, they can still get the fluid they need from other sources. Milk and juice contribute to their fluid needs, as do foods high in liquid like soup, smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, and fruit.

Lack of exercise or physical activity

Daily physical activity of any kind helps keep things moving. Whether it’s walking, sports, gymnastics, dancing, swimming, playing on the playground, riding a bike, or even jumping on a trampoline, make sure your little one is moving at least 30-60 minutes a day. Getting enough exercise when the weather is bad is tough! We love Go Noodle on youtube. 

Stress or changes in routine

This can cause kids to ignore the urge to have a bowel movement or delay bowel movements. They may not be comfortable at their daycare or school or away from home, and refuse to go. The longer they hold it in, the more problematic it becomes.

Withholding

They may hold it in if they are too busy playing and don’t want to have to stop and go to the bathroom. This also can happen when potty training. It’s very common for me to hear from parents that kids who are starting to potty train are struggling with constipation. If they ignore the urge to go for long enough, the feeling will pass. But again the longer they hold it in, the more likely they are to show signs of constipation.

Other possible causes of constipation

Occasionally medications will be the cause, like prescription pain medicine, or even iron supplements. 

Dehydration, especially from vomiting or diarrhea, can then lead to constipation.

Lastly, underlying illness may sometimes lead to constipation. This is one of the reasons it’s important to speak with the doctor if constipation becomes chronic or ongoing. They can evaluate the symptoms of constipation and any other symptoms your child might be having. 

Foods to help kids poop

The top foods to help your child poop are fiber-rich foods.

How much fiber do they need?

At a minimum, aim for their age in years + 5. So a 2 year old would need at least 7 grams of fiber per day. But to ensure they have enough fiber to stay regular, it’s best to aim for almost two times that amount.

  • Children 1-3 years should have at least 14 grams of fiber per day
  • Children 4-8 years should have at least 16-19 grams of fiber per day

To get enough fiber, I recommend serving fruit and/or vegetables at each meal, prioritizing whole grains over refined, and adding in 1 to 2 tbsp of nuts or seeds daily. 

Best high fiber foods for constipation

  • Fruit and vegetables (with skin on, if possible: skin contains more fiber)
    • The best fruits for constipation include: 
      • Peaches
      • Pears
      • Plums
      • Prunes
      • Apple
      • Avocado
      • Cherries
      • Blackberries
    • These are high in sorbitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that’s a natural laxative.
  • Some fruit juices
    • Prune juice
    • Pear nectar juice
    • Prune-apple juice
    • Apple juice
  • Kiwi
  • Sweet potatoes – mash or roast with skin
    • Anecdotally, I hear from many parents that sweet potatoes really do the trick for their little one!
  • Ground flaxseeds (about 1 – 2 tbsp for toddlers); start with 1 tsp for under 12 months. This is the brand I like best because it’s the most finely milled. So you can easily mix it into foods without them noticing it!
  • Chia seeds- they are water filled and high in soluble fiber! Try about 1 tbsp a day. These can be either whole or ground, either way is fine. 
  • Spinach
  • Beans (high in insoluble fiber)
  • Oatmeal and other whole grains (whole wheat bread, pasta)

And a few more that aren’t high in fiber, but do help with constipation:

  • Olive oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Ripe bananas – greenish bananas can be constipating, but brownish bananas are helpful.

Non-food remedies for constipation

  • Make sure they get enough fluid every day. The easiest way to check if they’re getting enough is by looking at their urine color (if potty trained). If it’s a pale yellow or lighter, they are well hydrated. If it’s darker than lemonade, they need to drink more. If wearing diapers, you’re looking for a few heavy wet diapers a day. If you notice they go several hours without wetting a diaper, that’s a sign they need more fluid.
  • Movement: 60 minutes of physical activity is a great goal! 
  • Probiotics: these probiotics are the best to potentially help with constipation:
  • Magnesium: magnesium supplements are known to have a laxative effect in both adults and children. Here are some options:
  • Doctor prescribed meds: The pediatrician may recommend a stool softener, or a laxative like Miralax or lactulose. I highly recommend following the doctor’s recommendations, even if you feel hesitant about giving your child a medication like this. If the constipation is chronic or severe, they usually need help from a laxative to fully evacuate the colon. Diet changes will hopefully help prevent prolonged use of laxatives, but in the short term, it’s better for your child if you can relieve any severe constipation. 
  • GI consult: for recurring constipation, the pediatrician may suggest a visit to a pediatric gastroenterologist. In some cases, the gastroenterologist will want to perform tests to find out if there is an underlying issue causing the constipation. 

Resources

Favorite ground flaxseed

Foods to choose and foods to avoid for constipation relief

More high fiber foods for toddlers plus a sample meal plan with 25g fiber

Probiotics: these probiotics are the best to potentially help with constipation:

Magnesium: magnesium supplements are known to have a laxative effect in both adults and children. Here are some options:

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