When our kids are upset, we try to find out what’s wrong so we can comfort them. If our babies cry, we hold them, feed them, burp them, change them.
As they grow, we ask questions. “Are you hurt? Are you hungry? Is it nap time?” Sometimes, they just can’t tell us what is bothering them. Perhaps they aren’t sure how to describe it. We feel just as frustrated as they do when we can’t figure out what is wrong because we want to be able to fix the problem and meet their needs. We love them and want them to feel well!
One need that sometimes goes overlooked is digestion. We make sure our kids have good food to eat, but sometimes we don’t know that things are not moving through the digestive tract the way they should. Our kids can be constipated and we may not know it. Constipation can be sneaky. It doesn’t just mean straining to pass small, hard stools. It can be infrequent bowel movements or even going to the bathroom frequently but not being able to evacuate completely. Everyone is different, so the frequency of bowel movements is variable, but if our kids aren’t emptying their bowels every few days we should talk to their medical provider.
Constipation can cause a feeling of fullness in the stomach or intestines, abdominal cramps, bloating and achiness in the stomach, abdomen, or back. It can also cause decreased concentration, increased irritability, decreased frustration tolerance, depression and anxiety. It can have a negative effect on sleep, reduce appetite, and limit activity. Our “gut” or digestive tract is truly connected to our entire body and has a big impact on how we live. When it isn’t working at its full potential, it tells us in many ways. Our kids may not know what’s wrong, though.
How does constipation happen? Our digestive system is affected by much more than just our diet. Healthy, whole foods help move things along and it is necessary to exercise, drink enough water, and sleep well for our intestines to work efficiently. In addition, genetics, bacteria, stress and medication can all impact digestion. Holding bowel movements for extended times can damage the nerve and muscle coordination needed to have a complete bowel movement.
If you think your child may be constipated, talk to their medical provider. Most of us don’t like to talk about digestion, constipation, or anything about poop. It’s an important topic, though. It’s ok to ask your kids if they’ve pooped. It’s good to talk about gut health. Encourage kids (and ourselves) to eat healthy food with fiber, drink lots of water, get enough sleep, move our bodies, and practice mindfulness. Pooping regularly and completely keeps our bodies working well!