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Fiber 101 and Constipation in Kids

Posted Dec 05 2012 3:48pm

Constipation is very common in little children, and I have learned this from my own experience with my kids.  My little Sophie has had constipation issues since she was just a baby.  

What is it?

Constipation is typically characterized by infrequent bowel movements or hard, dry stools.

Some signs and symptoms of constipation are:

  • No bowel movements for several days
  • Bowel movements that are hard, dry and difficult to pass
  • Pain while having a bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Traces of liquid or clay-like stool in the child's underwear — a sign that stool is backed up in the rectum
  • Soiled underwear
  • Blood on the surface of hard stool
  • Poor appetite
  • Cranky behavior

Constipation in children is more likely for kids who:

  • Are sedentary
  • Don't eat enough fiber
  • Don't drink enough fluids
  • Take certain medications, including some antacids and antidepressants
  • Have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Have a medical condition affecting the anus or rectum
  • Have a family history of constipation

What to Do?

If your child's constipation is severe or has been going on for a long time, then seeing your doctor is definitely the first step.  Your doctor may recommend fiber supplements or stool softeners, laxatives, or an enema.  

If you don't think that your child's constipation necessitates a trip to the doctor, some things that you can try at home:

  • Offer a high-fiber diet. A diet high in fiber will help your child's body form soft, bulky stool.  

How much fiber do kids need?  There are 2 ways to figure it out:

  1. Calculate by age.  Take your child's age and add 5.  So if your child is 4 years old, they would need 9g of fiber per day.
  2. Calculate by weight.  Your child needs 0.5 grams of fiber every day for each kilogram of body weight. One kilogram is equivalent to 2.2 pounds. So if your child weighs 44 pounds, divide that number by 2.2 to figure out your child's weight in kilograms. If your child weighs 44 pounds, they would weigh 20 kilograms. You then multiply the weight in kilograms by 0.5, which in this example is 10 grams of fiber daily. The upper limit of daily fiber for children is 35 grams.

 Offer your child high-fiber foods, such as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Limit foods that have little or no fiber, such as cheese, meat and processed foods. But start slowly, adding just several grams of fiber a day over several weeks to reduce the amount of gas and bloating that can occur in someone who's not used to consuming high-fiber foods.

This is a table to give you an idea of how much fiber is in different foods. 

Per 1/2 cup
Food  Fiber (grams)
Barley, pearl 16
Beans 8
Lentils 7.5
Whole Wheat Flour 7.2
Oat bran 7.2
Chickpeas 6.2
Buckwheat Flour 6
Pear 5.5
Tomato Paste 5.3
Apple 4.4
Green Peas, frozen, cooked 4.4
Raspberries 4
Edamame 4
Spinach, frozen 3.5
Whole Wheat Spaghetti 3.2
Orange 3.1
Winter Squash 2.9
Broccoli, frozen, cooked 2.5
Avocado 1.9
Almonds, (12 nuts) 1.6
Applesauce 1.5
Carrots 1.5
Broccoli, raw 1.2
Cauliflower, raw 1.2
Popcorn (1 cup) 1.2
Whole Wheat Bread 1
Peanut Butter 0.6
  • Offer adequate fluids. Water and other fluids will help soften your child's stool. Be careful of offering your child too much milk, however. For some children, excess milk contributes to constipation.

More on Fiber 

 Fiber has a lot of health benefits besides just helping with constipation:

  • Fiber slows digestion so the glucose can enter the bloodstream more slowly; helps to control blood sugars. 
  • Helps prevent overeating because you feel full and helps maintain a healthy weight.
  • Can help lower cholesterol
  • Helps maintain bowel health

What is fiber?

Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which your body breaks down and absorbs — fiber isn't digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your digestive track.  

Including a lot of fiber in your diet is definitely a healthy way to eat.  Here are some of our favorite high-fiber recipes:


Keep your kids (and yourself) regular and your bowels happy by including high fiber foods in your diet everyday!


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