Constipation has been an issue in my house for the last 3.5 years. It is a huge thorn in my side and frustrates me often. As an occupational therapist that specializes in feeding, I knew well about constipation and the effects it can have on a child’s eating habits. I know more than the basics to help with constipation, which I will share here, but in my case, it wasn’t enough.
My son’s constipation was chronic and unceasing. I had to dig deeper so that he could get off his dependence of Miralax that started before he was 2 years old.
In my son’s case, his constipation began after transitioning to cow’s milk from breast milk as a young toddler. At it’s worst, he had sharp referral pain in his back, which was frightening. At that time, we put him on Polyethylene Glycol (PEG for short, or Miralax as you likely know it) an over-the-counter stool softener.
He was on it daily until about 6 months ago when I started to realize he wasn’t growing out of this, which had been several years at this point. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep him on it indefinitely and couldn’t believe that much time had passed with daily use.
Although the doctors assured me that it was totally safe, after more than 2 years, I decided to do some of my own research. I was shocked to learn that although no major incidents or side effects have been reported, it has never been approved by the FDA for use in kids or for use on a long-term basis.
Miralax, and many other stool softeners, are not absorbed into the body, but keep water with the bowel as it is being digested, thus freeing a child of constipation.
Please know that my intent here is not to attack Miralax, for some kids, it is necessary and at times, it has been a miracle for us. BUT – I couldn’t help wondering, aren’t there other solutions, especially when this is a long term problem?
What natural laxatives for kid’s constipation were available? You can find out here…
UPDATE: As our journey has continued, we’ve added even more quick relief for kids’ constipation in this follow up post: Chronic Constipation in Kids
Causes of Constipation in Kids
First, we have to talk about the causes of constipation, as an OT, I’m always thinking about what the underlying cause is of any challenge a child faces. Constipation is no different. Here are some of the most common causes of constipation in kids:
1. Genetics – Unfortunately, for some kids, it is in the genes, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential for them to grow out of it.
2. Diet – Processed foods, low fiber foods, mostly white bread products, and frequent consumption of the foods on the list to avoid below.
3. Intolerance to dairy or wheat or both – An intolerance is different than an allergy and some kids may have difficulty digesting wheat or dairy, which slows down their elimination. Dairy is more likely and often moderating it and eliminating cow’s milk is a winning combination.
4. Holding it in – Some kids actually hold it in because they don’t like how the poop feels coming out or they had a previously painful movement. This can snowball quickly and the longer that they hold it in, the worse it becomes. I’ll talk about this more in the next section.
5. Poor Chewing – If your child doesn’t chew their food well or has difficulty chewing and swallows large pieces of food, it could contribute to constipation because the food isn’t broken down enough when it enters and then exits the stomach into the intestines.
6. Picky Eating – With a diet limited in fruits and veggies, constipation is a likely outcome. But, constipation can also cause picky eating. If a child is backed up, then there isn’t a lot of room to get more food into their stomach so they will often refuse to eat.
To take steps to start helping your child turn around their picky eating get a spot in our free picky eating workshop with workbook.
7. Poor Water Intake – A low amount of water makes it difficult to move the poop through the intestines. Kids need to drink half their body weight in ounces of water daily. A 50lb kid, needs 25 ounces baseline. If they exercise, sweat, or it’s hot outside, they’ll need more. A major factor in a recent trip to the emergency room because of my son’s severe constipation on the 4th of July was not drinking enough water in the heat.
8. Low Muscle Tone – Kids’ muscle tone can actually affect their ability to push poop out and if this is the cause, too much fiber can make it more difficult for them to poop. Read more about low tone here.
Affiliate links used below See our full disclosure.
22 Natural Laxatives for Kids’ Constipation
Natural laxatives for kids’ constipation can come in the way of foods, natural supplements, or even some techniques as you’ll learn about below.
First and foremost, start with food because your child is eating anyways. Some of these foods may be difficult to get into your child if they’re a picky eater. If that is the case, don’t try to lay down the law, slowly start to introduce these foods in fun and playful ways to get your kids interested. Keep serving them as you consider some of the natural supplements in the mean time.
Foods that are Natural Laxatives for Kids:
- Prune juice
- Pear juice
- Psyllium husk powder – mix in a teaspoon or tablespoon into your child’s hot cereal or make a bread or pizza crust with it. This is a strong natural laxative!
- Beans, especially black beans – add to burgers, rice, or soup
- High Fiber Bread
- Flax Seed Meal – add a tablespoon to yogurt, hot cereal, or breads
Many of these food are naturally high in fiber, for more ideas, head over to Tasty High Fiber Foods for Kids. In general, anytime your child is having a carb swap in a whole wheat version because it usually works as a natural laxative. Whole wheat pasta, cereals, and breads are often readily available.
However, you can’t always assume that because something is whole grain, whole wheat, or brown rice that there is fiber. Also, there are a lot of high fiber products that don’t necessarily fit into those categories either, so it is really important to read the label.
I’d try to avoid buying foods that have anything less than 2 grams of fiber.
That may sound overwhelming, but there are so many options now when it comes to breads, pretzels, crackers, etc. You will also want to try and maximize the fiber, don’t just stop at 2 grams. Keep flipping over boxes and bags until you find the highest number. Of course, the natural sources of fiber are superior because many of the high fiber products add processed fiber.
Supplements that are Natural Laxatives for Kids
14. Fiber Advance Gummies For Kids – When we started to back off of Miralax, I was happy to have found an all natural fiber gummy that I give to my kids. There are very few ingredients and no sugar. My kids love them.
15. Fletcher’s Gentle Laxative Kids – Several readers have found this to be a helpful natural laxative for quick relief.
20. Water – As I mentioned above, get the water in! Have a cup ready to go at the start of your day and readily available all day long. Give gentle reminders as needed. Also, take water with you everywhere so they can drink in the car or running errands.
21. Tummy Rub for Constipation – Having your child lie on their back and with a little lotion, rubbung their intestines in a circular motion can stimulate the bowels to get moving. Get full directions for a “poop massage”, these stomach rubs can take just a few minutes and be highly effective.
22. Wellement’s Organic Baby and Toddler Constipation Support – If you have toddler or baby, this natural relief supplement has incredible reviews and is completely all natural.
**It’s important to note that if your child is SEVERELY constipated, you should talk to their doctor. It’s critical that they get relief and will likely have to rely on Miralax or Restorolax in very large doses to clean them out and then for sometime afterwards. When my son went to the ER, after 2 enemas, he also drank some 10 capfuls of Miralax to completely clean him out.
Depending on your child’s age and weight, this amount will have to modified. Don’t follow that guideline, I only share it show how much they may need initially. If you aren’t getting the answers or support from your doctor, get a second opinion, see a pediatric gastroenterologist, and/or head to emergent care to get immediate support.
Timing Matters for Constipated Kids that Need Quick Relief
Sooooo many kids hold it when they have to go because they are somewhere they would rather not “go” or they don’t want to run in from outside or stop in the middle of playing.
Missing those cues can have a huge impact on how constipated your kid gets. If you happen to be staring at your kid at that moment, you might catch the signal and can rush them off anyways, but sometimes, they hide it well and often we miss that quick moment.
The solution is to have them sit on the toilet at the same time everyday. The best time is usually within 15 minutes after they eat. I try very hard not to turn toilet time into something negative or worse, a power struggle.
I need to give my son lots of warnings throughout the meal (“As soon as you’re done, go and pick out your book for the potty.”) and mornings usually work really well. When we are on top of this, it is very helpful.
Foods to Avoid for Quick Relief of Kids’ Constipation
As a feeding therapist, I hate to tell kids there are foods they can’t or shouldn’t eat. At four years old, I did begin to explain to my son that these were foods we could only eat sometimes because they made it much harder for him to poop – can’t say I liked doing that, but he gets it. None of these things are totally off limits, but I do limit them as much as possible.
- Ice cream
- Rice Krispy treats
- Rice cakes (unless they are brown rice and have a few grams of fiber)
- White rice
- White bread products/crackers/pretzels
Hope for Kids with Constipation…
Figuring out what’s causing your child’s constipation will be helpful in overcoming it. It will likely take time for your child’s intestines to shrink back to their regular size in the mean time.
If something is working in your house that I didn’t list here, PLEASE share so that it can help others! Be sure to check out more ways to ease constipation from The Constipation Gurus, a brilliant physical therapist and dietician team that are working to help kids suffering with constipation.
More Natural Laxatives for Kids
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 18 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.