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Childhood constipation

Preventing constipation

There are various things you can do to help keep your child’s bowels healthy.

  • Don't let your child wait to do a poo

  • Give your child enough time so they don’t feel rushed. Set aside a time each day for your child to sit on the toilet. A good time for this may be after breakfast or lunch, when their bowels are most active

  • Encourage your child to eat more high-fibre foods such as wholegrain bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals, fruit and vegetables. For babies, try giving puréed fruit and vegetables

  • Make sure your child drinks lots of fluids to keep the stools moist e.g. 6-8 water based drinks per day. For babies, try giving cooled boiled water in between feeds

  • Encourage your child to get lots of active play to increase bowel activity

  • Make sure your child sits on the toilet properly. This means sitting up straight so that the small tube just before the anus (the anal canal) will also be straight. This makes it easier to push stools out. Your child may need to put his or her feet on a footstool in front of the toilet

  • You can make going to the toilet more fun by keeping special treats reserved for the toilet, such as a favourite book or getting them to blow bubbles

  • If your child says that it hurts to poo, tell him or her to stop trying, and then try again later

Eating more fibre
Eating a diet low in fibre is known to cause constipation. Most doctors would advise that if your child is constipated, it's worth trying to encourage him or her to eat more fibre.

Fibre cannot be digested by the body so passes straight through your child's digestive system and becomes part of your child's stools. Eating foods that are high in fibre increases the bulk of the stools and makes them softer (by helping them retain water) so they are easier to push out.

How to calculate how much fibre (in grams) your child should be eating per day

Child’s age in years + 5 grams in children older than 2 years

E.g. If your child is 7 years old, the calculation would be 7 + 5 = 12
They should therefore be eating 12 grams of fibre per day. To put this into perspective, it is recommended that adults should eat about 18 grams of fibre a day.

Choose foods that are higher in fibre and aim to include them at each meal time. One should aim for a variety of foods including wholegrain cereals, wholemeal / granary breads and fruit and vegetables. Include dried fruit and fruit eaten with skin on as well as vegetables particularly beans, peas, sweetcorn and pulses such as lentils. Reading labels on food can help to identify their fibre content.

 Filename (click to download) DescriptionSize
21/04/2005 Fibre Content of Everyday Foods.pdf Adobe PDF Format 0KB
22/02/2005 Fluid Intake Advice and Record Card.pdf Adobe PDF Format 0KB
22/02/2005 Tips on Increasing Fibre and Fluid in you Diet.pdf Adobe PDF Format 0KB

It might be a good idea to involve the whole family in this change of diet. The child will need to see other family members eating the same sort of food or they will, understandably, view the enforcement of this type of diet as a punishment with predictably negative results. It is therefore important that the whole family is involved with any dietary improvements.

Drinking more fluids
It is important to increase your child’s fluid intake. Aim to get the child to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid each day (approx. 2 pints / 1 litre). Suitable fluids include water, squash and fruit juices. By increasing the fluid intake you will increase the water content of the stools making them softer and easier to pass. If a child drinks an excessive amount of milk, this may need to be reduced to approx., 1 pint / 500mls per day + 500mls of water based drinks as discussed above.

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Childhood constipation
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