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The 3 F's for Kids Constipation Relief

Published December 18, 2023

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Constipation in kids can be a concerning issue affecting their comfort and overall well-being. As a Registered Dietitian, I've found that addressing constipation often requires a multifaceted approach. For parents, we often emphasize three crucial factors: fiber, fluids, and fitness. Also known as the “3 F’s”, combining these factors can help with constipation support in kids. Let’s review how fiber, fluids, and fitness can help with our little one’s constipation relief strategy.

1. Fiber: A Key Player in Kid’s Digestive Health

Fiber plays a pivotal role in maintaining regular bowel movements. Increasing dietary fiber intake can soften stools, making them easier to pass [1]. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends age-appropriate daily fiber consumption to help with constipation in kids [2]. Foods rich in fiber include fruits and vegetables such as pears, apples, and carrots.

Recommended Daily Fiber Intake by Age

Age (years)

Fiber (grams)

1 to 3 years

19g

4 to 8 years

25g

9 to 13 years (female)

26g

9 to 13 years (male)

31g

Source: Cleveland Health Clinic

Begin Health Expert Tip: Prebiotics are a special type of fiber that supports constipated kids by helping to promote softer, more frequent poops [6]. This type of fiber is naturally in foods such as apples and carrots, but for families who have pickier eaters or just need additional help getting consistent fiber into their diet, Growing Up Prebiotics can provide the gut health boost they need to support their health. Every serving provides 3g of daily fiber to help build a balanced microbiome. Our prebiotics are tasteless, textureless, and can be incorporated into your little one’s water or favorite beverage.

2. Fluids: Hydration for Smoother Poops

Adequate hydration is essential for preventing and alleviating constipation. Water helps fiber do its job by softening stools and aiding in their movement through the digestive tract [3]. Encouraging kids to drink enough water throughout the day to prevent dehydration is a critical part of maintaining regular bowel habits.

Kids Hydration Recommendations by Age

Age

Liquid Amount

Infants (0 - 6 months)

Breastmilk or formula as their only source of hydration. Small sips of water can be introduced with solid foods between 6 - 12 months.

Toddlers (1 - 3 years)

Half an ounce of water for every pound of body weight

Kids (ages 4 and above)

Half an ounce of water for every pound of body weight

Source: Children’s Hospital of Orange County

Begin Health Expert Tip: For more ways to increase hydration in your kiddos, check out our blog: 15 Creative Ways to Get Your Picky Eater to Drink More Fluids.

3. Fitness and Fun: Active Lifestyle and Stress Management

Believe it or not, stress and inactivity can contribute to constipation in kids [4,5]. Studies reveal that preschool kids who move 60 minutes or more daily have a lower risk for developing symptoms from constipation [7]. Engaging in physical activity not only promotes overall health but also stimulates bowel movements, which helps stool move along the digestive tract [8].

Additionally, stress and psychological impact can alter gut motility and colon transit time [9]. Stress from anxiety has been associated more frequently in kids who struggle with functional constipation [10]. For kiddos who are potty training, stress from traumatic potty experiences can lead to withholding, which can also be a contributing factor for constipation.

Because of this, stress management through enjoyable activities and a relaxed environment is crucial and can positively impact bowel regularity in kids.

Summary: Constipation in kids is often managed through a multifaceted approach that often includes fiber-rich nutrition, adequate hydration, and an active, stress-free lifestyle. By remembering the 3 F's - fiber, fluids, and fitness/fun, you can help build a better action plan for constipation relief in your kiddos. Remember, consistency and patience are key when making dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Implementing healthy habits daily can create the foundation your kiddos need for long-term gut health. For more information about healthy habits that support gut health in kids, check out this blog: 5 Healthy Habits for Kids Constipation Support.

References:

[1] Yang J, Wang HP, Zhou L, Xu CF. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Dec 28;18(48):7378-83. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378. PMID: 23326148; PMCID: PMC3544045.

[2] Kranz S, Brauchla M, Slavin JL, Miller KB. What do we know about dietary fiber intake in children and health? The effects of fiber intake on constipation, obesity, and diabetes in children. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan;3(1):47-53. doi: 10.3945/an.111.001362. Epub 2012 Jan 5. PMID: 22332100; PMCID: PMC3262613.

[3] Yurtdaş G, Acar-Tek N, Akbulut G, Cemali Ö, Arslan N, Beyaz Coşkun A, Zengin FH. Risk Factors for Constipation in Adults: A Cross-Sectional Study. J Am Coll Nutr. 2020 Nov-Dec;39(8):713-719. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2020.1727380. Epub 2020 Feb 20. PMID: 32077808.

[4] Seidenfaden S, Ormarsson OT, Lund SH, Bjornsson ES. Physical activity may decrease the likelihood of children developing constipation. Acta Paediatr. 2018 Jan;107(1):151-155. doi: 10.1111/apa.14067. Epub 2017 Sep 27. PMID: 28898506.

[5] Gozali FS, Febiana B, Putra IGNS, Karyana IPG, Hegar B. Relationship between psychological stress with functional constipation in children: a systematic review. Pan Afr Med J. 2023 Sep 7;46:8. doi: 10.11604/pamj.2023.46.8.41130. PMID: 37928217; PMCID: PMC10620441.

[6] Closa-Monasterolo R, Ferré N, Castillejo-DeVillasante G, Luque V, Gispert-Llaurado M, Zaragoza-Jordana M, Theis S, Escribano J. The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Aug;68(5):587-594. doi: 10.1080/09637486.2016.1263605. Epub 2016 Dec 8. PMID: 27931142.

[7] Driessen LM, Kiefte-de Jong JC, Wijtzes A, de Vries SI, Jaddoe VW, Hofman A, Raat H, Moll HA. Preschool physical activity and functional constipation: the Generation R study. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2013 Dec;57(6):768-74. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e3182a313fc. PMID: 23857342.

[8] Tantawy SA, Kamel DM, Abdelbasset WK, Elgohary HM. Effects of a proposed physical activity and diet control to manage constipation in middle-aged obese women. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2017 Dec 14;10:513-519. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S140250. PMID: 29276399; PMCID: PMC5734236.

[9] Devanarayana NM, Rajindrajith S. Association between constipation and stressful life events in a cohort of Sri Lankan children and adolescents. J Trop Pediatr. 2010 Jun;56(3):144-8. doi: 10.1093/tropej/fmp077. Epub 2009 Aug 20. PMID: 19696192.

[10] Waters AM, Schilpzand E, Bell C, Walker LS, Baber K. Functional gastrointestinal symptoms in children with anxiety disorders. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2013 Jan;41(1):151-63. doi: 10.1007/s10802-012-9657-0. PMID: 22773359.

May Zhu, RDN

May Zhu, RDN

May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.