Today we’re going to cover a topic that isn’t pretty, and most people don’t talk about (unless you’re a women’s health physical therapist like me, who treats this problem daily). CONSTIPATION. Although it’s not necessarily a fun topic of conversation, it’s a problem that affects 20% of the population. This includes those of all ages, from infants to the elderly. And like I said, it is SO common that I treat this almost daily!
Constipation is defined as having less than 3 bowel movements per week, and having stools that are hard or small and pellet-like. Also, if you have to strain or push excessively in order to have a bowel movement, you are more than likely constipated. Abdominal pain can be common, and sometimes even nausea. It really can be a life altering condition.
Constipation is also a common problem in our kids. If you are wondering if your child may be constipated, some common signs include include:
- Holding Patterns: Not using the bathroom even if they feel they have to go. It only takes one painful bout of constipation for a child to be scared to go and develop stool holding, which leads to constipation.
- Excessive straining or time in the bathroom: If you notice your child really has to push to go, or is in the bathroom way longer than they should need to be, these can be a sign of constipation.
- Stool consistency: We call it “rabbit poop” in the clinic! It may sound weird, but ask your child what their stool looks like (they will probably think it’s funny!). This can give major clues as to what their bowel function is. If they stool is hard or small and pellet-like, they are most likely constipated.
- Not having regular bowel movements: Kids really should have a BM almost every day. If you notice they are having less than three per week, this can be a problem.
The good thing is, there are things you can do at home to help constipation in kids! The bonus is, they also work for adults.
Tips for Improving Constipation in Kids & Adults
This may sound weird, but there is a certain body position you can utilize to make it easier to have a bowel movement.
- Feet flat on a stool or Squatty Potty. Feet should be hip-width apart. If you don’t have a stool or Squatty Potty, place feet flat on the floor.
- Knees should be at or above your hips (like you are in a small squat).
- Hinge forward and rest your elbows mid-thigh.
While in this position, your child is able to best relax their pelvic floor muscles. Because stool has to pass through the pelvic floor on its way out of the body, the more relaxed the muscles are, the easier it is to go. Positioning is the #1 thing to start with to improve constipation in kids and adults.
Think about your child who has bathroom issues. Do they rush while they’re in there? Are they holding their stool or bladder too long because they don’t want to stop any fun activity they may be doing? Do you think they are even in the bathroom long enough to finish what they are in there to do in the first place?
I like to focus a lot on what I call “bathroom habits”. They are a few quick and easy things your child can change to have more successful bowel movements. They work for adults too!
Good bathroom habits include:
- Taking your time in the bathroom. Don’t rush what you are there to do! Have your child count to 15 before they get off of the toilet. You can also hang some sort of picture on the wall in front of the toilet for a reminder of this. It can be a picture of how they should sit on the toilet, or even the number “15” for a reminder. By slowing down, it will allow the pelvic muscles to relax even more, and for any other stool that may still be in the body time to come out. The more empty, the better!
- No holding, use the bathroom as soon as possible. As soon as your child feels the urge to use the bathroom, encourage them to go! I understand its not always possible to drop everything in the moment to get to the bathroom, but as soon as it’s appropriate to do so, go! Prolonged holding will only make it more difficult to go by increasing tension to the pelvic muscles, as well as making stool harder.
- Establish a bathroom schedule. Our kids, and their bodies, love schedules. If possible, pick a time of day (usually 20-30 minutes after breakfast is best) to have your child try and have a bowel movement. Eating breakfast tends to stimulate the bowels, which makes it easier to go. Over time, this can help their bodies be more regular. I know it’s not always the easiest with our constantly busy schedules, but the more your child uses the bathroom at a consistent time each day, the more consistent their BMs will eventually become.
- For the moms – give yourself a little bit of time! Trust me, I know how hard it is to try and relax your body and your muscles in order to go when you have kids pounding on the bathroom door, but if you can find 5 minutes to escape the noise and chaos, it will be easier.
“I Love You” Massage
There is a special massage technique done on the belly that can help stimulate colon movement, which means easier BMs. We call it the “I Love You Massage”, and almost every kid loves it! If you are having troubles, you can also do this on your own abdomen. During the massage, you are moving the pads of your fingers in the shape of a 3-sided square on your child’s (or your own) belly.
- Have your child lay down on their back.
- Place the pads of your fingers on their lower right abdomen and apply consistent pressure throughout the whole massage.
- Move your hands straight up to just under the right ribcage.
- Next, move hands across the top of the belly.
- Now, move hands down the left side of the belly to the left lower abdomen.
If you look up “I Love You Massage” on Google, you will find many videos and pictures of how it’s done!
I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but diet plays such an important role in bowel function. The best foods for your body (and bowels) are whole foods, primarily vegetables. They contain fiber your child’s body needs to stay regular. Water is also super important! Our bodies absorb water out of our stool, so staying hydrated is important to keep our bowels moving.
Pelvic Physical Therapy
Lastly, pelvic physical therapy can be a great conservative option to treat constipation in kids and adults. PT’s are able to help treat muscle imbalances in the core, hips, and pelvis that may be contributing to constipation, as well as further personalize strategies that can be used at home for further success.
Give these tips and tricks a try! They are some of the most common ones I give my patients, both kids and moms, to keep you “moving” and as healthy as can be!