How to handle constipation in Babies and Toddlers includes knowing the its Signs, the causes and how to Relieve constipation.

CONSTIPATION is a condition of the digestive system where an individual has infrequent bowel movement, scanty poos and hard feaces that are difficult to pass out. A child with constipation may have bowel movements less frequently than normal, hard bowel movements, or large, difficult, and painful bowel movement.  This may be due to changes in your baby’s diet (or mother in the case of exclusive breastfeeding) or   toddler erratic eating habits.   It could also be due to  your child consuming a lot of processed foods and sugary drinks that contain little or no fiber.

How and why does Constipation occur?
Normally, as digested food travels down the intestines, water and nutrients are absorbed, and the waste material becomes stools. For a soft stool to form, enough water must remain in the waste material, and the lower intestinal and rectal muscles must contract and relax to move the stool along and out. Malfunction of either of these mechanisms – too little water or poor muscle movement – can cause constipation.

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In children, the cause could be emotional or poor dietary habits. Is your toddler going through a negative phase or emotional upset that may cause reluctance to have a bowel movement? This upset may affect his or her intestinal functions, showing either diarrhea or constipation.  Your child may not be drinking enough water and/or fluids and not getting enough fiber in their diet.

Another reason your child is constipated may be due to toilet training.  If your child is not ready or interested in using the toilet, he or she may try to avoid going to the bathroom (called withholding), which can lead to constipation.  Children who have experienced a hard or painful bowel movement are even more likely to withhold, and this only worsens the problem.

Babies 0 -6 months:
Babies are on an all-liquid diet ( breast milk or formula) so their food is more easily absorbed and digested.  On average, babies 0 to 4 months old poop 3 to 4 times a day.  Exclusively breast fed babies are usually less constipated than formula fed babies, and may poop after each feeding or go several days before releasing their bowels.  This is because breastmilk is easily digested and well absorbed especially when both the fore and hind milk are released during breastfeeding. If you suspect that your exclusive breastfed baby might be constipated, take a  look at your diet, as everything you  eat  gets passed to your baby.  Also constipation in breastfed infants could be a symptom of a milk-protein allergy usually caused by dairy foods, this can be relieved by substituting soy products for dairy.  Some of the ingredients in formula might be more challenging to a baby’s digestive system and result in much firmer or harder poops.  The most important thing to watch for is that your baby’s poop is soft and he does not strain when releasing it.

Babies above six months
Once complimentary foods begin,   your baby’s poop is going to change.  The stools become more formed, less frequent and sometimes difficult.    This is because the intestines are more mature now and can compact things and hold on to them longer and also because the body is taking longer to process the food. For babies who consume foods that have been processed and the fibre removed, for example pap, constipation is likely to occur more frequently.

If your child is withholding during the toilet training process, stop toilet training temporarily. Encourage your child to sit on the toilet as soon as they feel the urge to have a bowel movement and give positive reinforcement (a hug, kiss, or words of encouragement) for recognizing the urge and sitting, whether or not the child is successful.

SIGNS OF CONSTIPATION

• A child who is constipated typically has bowel movements that look hard or pellet-like. The infant may cry while trying to move his or her bowels and have bowel movements less frequently than before.
• You can also tell your child is constipated if it looks like he or she is straining when trying to poop.
• Pain during a bowel movement may also mean he or she may be constipated

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RELIEVING  CONSTIPATION

1. Increase water intake

Not drinking enough water causes constipation and other health problems.    More fluids in your child’s diet put more fluids in your bowels, lessening constipation.

2. Add more fiber foods to your child’s diet. Fiber softens the stools by drawing water into them, making them bulkier and easier to pass. Fiber foods for your child  are raw   tigernut snacks, whole-grain breads, whole grain oats  and other high fibre cereals,  peas, and beans. Low-fiber foods like white rice, white bread, and other processed foods can cause constipation.

A little caution is needed with increased fiber intake though.  Eating high-fiber diets actually increase their risk of constipation if they don’t drink extra water along with fiber-rich foods, since fiber needs water to do its intestinal sweeping job.

3. Exercise.  This improves digestion and speeds the passage of food through the intestines. A moving body gets the bowels moving too.

4. Use natural laxatives. If the above doesn’t seem to help your child, try  offering pureed prunes, pears or plums, about a tablespoon or two for the six- month-old and as much as three – four  for toddlers. This can be given straight or mixed with a cereal.

5. Get help if your child is still constipated after trying the above.