Poop. We all do it, but it can feel funny to talk about. Luckily, as Dietitians, we love to talk about poop! Regular and consistent pooping (stooling, in medical speak) is very important to our health. When we aren’t having soft, consistent stools, it affects how we feel and how we eat. Many children suffer from inconsistent and painful stooling, or constipation, for a variety of reasons. In fact, did you know that constipation is the most frequent complaint at pediatrician visits? We’d like to give you guidance on how to help your child with regular stooling patterns so they can feel their best AND eat their best!
So, how do we promote regular and consistent pooping? Let’s call it the big 3- Fiber, Hydration, and Exercise! All three of these components work together to promote a healthy gut, which promotes regular stooling. Let’s look further into each of these three.
What does it do? Fiber adds bulk to our stool and also softens it. A larger, softer stool is easier to pass than a small, hard stool. There are two types of fiber and both work together in keeping you regular.
What foods are good sources of fiber? Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains (breads, crackers, pasta, cereals, oats), nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils. Incorporate these foods throughout the day into all meals and snacks.
*Tip- if you are starting off with a lower fiber diet, gradually increase the amount of fiber you are eating instead of all at once, as increasing fiber in your diet too quickly can cause gas and bloating- no fun!
What does it do? Appropriate liquid intake throughout the day provides your GI tract with the fluid it needs to keep your stool softer and easier to pass.
You can help your child achieve proper hydration throughout the day by providing them with milk (or milk alternative) at meal times and water throughout the day. If you are struggling to get your child to drink water, try flavoring water with a splash of fruit juice or squeeze fresh fruit juice into it! Alternatively, you can offer foods that have a high water content such as watermelon, pineapple, cucumber, broths/soups, yogurt, and smoothies. You can also try a fun cup or fun straw as motivation for them to drink more liquids.
Of note- children under 9 years old need 16-20 oz per day, and children/teens from 9-19 years old need 24 oz per day. Too much milk throughout the day can end up causing constipation if not paired with enough fiber in the diet!
When we move, our stool moves! Simple as that. So make sure your child is getting enough exercise in the day: 60 minutes of walking, running, or anything that makes their heart beat faster. For young children and toddlers, typical age appropriate play throughout the day achieves this goal as well.
There are situations where following the rules of the “big 3” do not promote regular/healthy stooling. Sometimes there is a behavioral component that results in constipation (holding in stool, also called “withholding”) or a medical reason why consistent stooling is hard to achieve. These situations likely require the expertise of a physician or dietitian, so please seek medical advice when needed. There are also medications and supplements that can aid in stooling, but these should only be used under supervision of a physician or dietitian.
Written by Amanda Johnson MS, RD, LDN