How to Treat Baby or Toddler Constipation with Prune Juice

Two glasses of prune juice with prunes.

Poop comes in all come kinds of different shapes and sizes—a fact that’s especially true when it comes to infants and toddlers.

And as a regular movement that we all go through, bowel movements can be great tools to see if everything in our bodies is going the way it should be. For young ones at such developmentally important stages of their lives, poop is a fantastic way to see everything is going smoothly on the inside.

One relatively common issue with bowel movements is constipation.

Constipation can take the form of dry and hard bowels, having to strain when passing stool, or pooping less than three times per week. For children under the age of 5, this is a relatively common occurrence and a common reason for visits to the doctor. Prune juice—along with some other preventative and treatment measures—can be used to make pooping easier for your child.

We’ll explore some of the reasons constipation occurs, but it’s important to understand that children often have a difficult time expressing that they’re constipated. That means, first and foremost, you’ll have to be comfortable and know the signs of a potentially constipated baby or toddler.

How to Spot Constipation

There are a number of ways to spot constipation, but it’s also important to remember that bowel movements (and their dryness and frequency) are dependant on each individual. In some cases, what might insinuate constipation in one child, is a perfectly normal bowel movement for another.

With that in mind, let’s look at the general differences between normal and abnormal bowel movements.

The first week of life usually finds the baby passing around 4 liquid or soft stools a day, but this generally depends on whether the child is breastfed or not. Babies feeding on breastmilk tend to have more movements than those who are taking formula.

Following that period, the first 3 months of finds another difference between breastfed and formula-fed children. The former usually have 3 soft movements per day—but this differs greatly. While some may be experiencing one after every feeding, others might experience a movement per week.

Formula-fed children usually pass 2 to 3 bowel movements per day, but there is a difference between the formula given. For example, soya and cow’s milk-based formulas can sometimes cause harder stool. On the other hand, hypoallergenic formulas can sometimes cause looser stool.

By two years of age, an infant will usually have one or two firm bowel movements each day.

While these are good general guidelines, each child differs and it’s a good idea to try to find other symptoms of constipation.

The best way to know if an infant has constipation is if you notice a difference in the frequency of bowel movements. If the stool looks hard or pellet-like, and your child is going to the washroom less frequently, it might be a sign of constipation. Furthermore, physical pains such as stomach cramps can also be a sign.

Behavioral changes such as the child feeling less hungry than normal or irritable behavior can also be a sign of constipation. They might also exhibit holding-on behavior, such as crossing their legs, squatting, arching their back, or refusing to sit on the toilet. You may also notice a slightly bloated belly or even anal fissures. The latter are small tears of skin around the anus that cause pain or bleeding when passing stool.

One or more of these factors can be a sign that your child is constipated.

Fresh prune juice can be great for treating constipation, especially in toddlers.

The Causes of Constipation

When trying to find out the cause for constipation, there are several different factors you can look at. They range from genetics and natural tendencies to diets and diseases. Finding out the root cause (or a combination of two) will help in treating constipation and preventing it in the future.

Genetics and Natural Tendencies

Unfortunately, this can just come down to genetics in the end. That doesn’t mean they can’t grow out of it, however. And there may also be ways to lessen the risk of the onset of constipation.

Genetics can show in children having just slow gut movement in general, and even low muscle tone. A child with low muscle tone can have trouble pushing stool out—and if this is really the cause, a diet high in fiber might be a bad thing.

Habits and Holding It In

Whether the child is doing it on purpose or not, the behavior of the child is sometimes to blame for their constipation.

For example, when a child is playing and purposely avoiding going on the toilet for a bowel movement, this can lead to the stool hardening and enlarging. Ultimately, this leads to a stool that’s much more difficult to pass in a bowel movement.

Another example is when a child first begins toilet training. They may just not like the idea of it and decide to hold it in to avoid going.

Furthermore, the beginning of school can be a big reason for holding in bowel movements. Not only is the environment new, but the toilets may be undesirable and therefore the child may just choose to stop going whenever they’re in that particular environment. They may even be told to “just hold it in” at school, which can further compound the problem. The location doesn’t even need to be necessarily unsanitary—just a place where the child feels uncomfortable passing stool.

Holding-it-in behavior might also be seen after a particularly painful bowel movement. If your child has had anal fissures and/or has had to pass a particularly large stool. That may dissuade the child from going to the washroom and persuade them to hold in, making the problem worse.

A Child’s Diet and Eating Habits

The diet is a common issue, but it can be difficult to know whether this is a problem with the diet itself, or if there should be special considerations around the child when it comes to feeding.

A common problem may be an intolerance to wheat, dairy, or both. An intolerance is different from an allergy since there is no obvious reaction that the child exhibits when consuming the product. An intolerance just means that the body might have a difficult time digesting the foodstuff, which causes constipation. Cow’s milk (or too much of it, at least) is a common problem that can sometimes fix the issue entirely if intake is limited.

But it’s not just about avoiding milk. Sometimes a poor diet can mean being constipated often. This means a diet high in processed foods and low in fiber, and fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes be to blame for constipation. A list of foods to avoid is:

·         White bread (and products such as crackers, pretzels)

·         Bananas

·         Marshmallows

·         Ice cream

·         Cheese

·         Rice krispy treats

·         White rice

But even if the diet is doing everything right, constipation could also be the result of poor water intake. If the body isn’t hydrated properly, it has a much more difficult time moving stool through the intestines. Make sure your little one is always getting the recommended amount of water each day.

The way in which your child eats can also affect whether or not they’re constipated. For example, not chewing food enough and gulping it down in large chunks is a factor that can contribute to constipation.

Additionally, picky eating is another habit that’s hard to break and can lead to constipation. If a child does all they can to avoid their vegetables and fruits, then it might be the cause of their poor bowel movements. On the other hand, picky eating might be the cause of constipation. If the child is avoiding foods or eating less, it can mean that they’re already backed up. In this case, it’s a bad idea to add fuel to the fire and pressure them to eat.

Lastly, young children who are transitioning from formula or breast milk to solid foods can sometimes experience constipation. The first stage solid food can be mixed with more breast milk, formula, or water to prevent (or lower the risk) of this happening.

Diseases and Medical Problems

This is one of the rarer occurrences that can cause constipation, but it’s still a possibility.

This can include things such as abnormalities of nerves in the colon, abnormal development of the nerves in the intestine, issues when it comes to absorbing nutrients, and even abnormalities in the spinal cord. The child’s doctor should be the one to ultimately rule out these issues and investigate further.

Prunes: A Natural Treatment for Constipation

Prune juice has been used for a long time to treat constipation, both in adults and in children. There’s a laundry list of benefits around prunes that make it both a good natural stool-softener, but also a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Keeping that in mind, it’s important to note two things. Prune juice won’t work for all children, and prune juice should be used differently based on how old the child works—something we’ll get into further below.

Prune juice, made from dried plums, has both laxative and diuretic effects on the human body. This is partially due to the fact that dried plums have high sorbitol content. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that’s found in plants which works by retaining water in the large intestine, allowing stool to pass through more easily. The phenolic compounds in dried plums further compound their laxative-like nature.

There are a few things to keep in mind before diving into the world prune juice.

For one, there is a small percentage of people who are allergic to prune juice and plums, which is something to watch out for when first introducing the food to your young one. It can also cause gassiness and bloating, which can be uncomfortable.

Prune juice (and all fruit juice) are also not generally recommended for infants younger than one year, due in part to their high sugar content. However, a doctor should have the final say.

Prune Juice Use According to Age

For newborns who are younger than 2 months, it’s unusual for them to be constipated. They may cry or grunt when trying to have a bowel movement, but this is considered relatively common as they’re trying to figure out the mechanics of how everything works.

Even if a newborn goes 5 days without passing stool, it’s not considered unusual. However, if you do suspect that the child is constipated based on all the factors we looked at above, then it’s best to consult a doctor or pediatrician.

Even when infants reach the ages between 2 and 12 months, it’s still not necessarily recommended to give them any juice, unless a doctor says that it’s okay. Furthermore, if a doctor does sign off on the use of prune juice, they should also give you how much is okay for the child to ingest.

A general guideline is 1 ounce of prune juice per month alive, with a daily maximum of 4 ounces administered no more than twice daily.

It helps to dilute the prune juice with water to assist them in hydrating along the way. However, the prune juice consumption shouldn’t lessen the amount of breast milk or formula the child’s being fed.

With older ages during their toddler years—over a year old—children can be given larger doses. This will be helpful since, during this time, constipation is a lot more common for children as they move onto solid foods. However, there should still be a limit on the amount of prune juice ingested. Keep an eye on your child and if they experience any irritability, but in general, prune juice consumption should be kept to a maximum of 1 cup per day. Otherwise, the child’s stomach may be irritated.

Always make sure that the prune juice you’re buying is pasteurized. Otherwise, it can contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli.

Other Treatments for Constipation

While prune juice is one of the more effective ways to combat constipation, there’s a whole toolkit of strategies you can use to make your child’s bowel movements more comfortable.

One of the most important factors is eating the right foods—and enough of them. This includes foodstuffs such as:

·         Pears

·         Avocados

·         Most veggies

·         Lentils

·         Beans (and especially black beans)

·         Oatmeal

·         Whole Wheat Pasta and whole-grain cereals

·         Barley

·         High Fiber Bread

A well-rounded whole diet that limits the intake of processed foods and “white” carbs is the best way to make sure that one’s bowel movements are comfortable and healthy.

Adding to that, children 6 months and older can drink water—and drink water they should. It’s one of the best ways to hydrate the digestive tract to make sure that everything comes out the way it should and in a timely manner.

If that doesn’t cut it, supplements such as fiber gummies can be given to children. Fiber is a necessary ingredient to a well-functioning bowel movement, and a supplement is sometimes what a child needs to get things moving along. One should also always read the labels of products that they’re buying. It shouldn’t be assumed that certain food that sounds like it will have a lot of fiber in it, actually does.

You should always consider taking your toddler to the doctor if constipation lasts longer than three days.

Behavioral Treatments and Preventative Measures

Paired with the advice above on what children should ingest to treat constipation, there are also a few things we can do to help and prevent constipation in the future.

Tummy rubs are highly effective for getting things going in some cases. This can potentially release gas and help move the stool along. Paired with a relaxing, warm bath, an infant’s muscles may relax just enough for them to have a proper bowel movement.

It’s also a good idea to foster healthy bowel habits. For example, getting your child used to the idea of going to sit on the toilet after every meal, especially after breakfast. This can do wonders in helping to prevent their “holding-in” mindset and can prevent constipation. If one sets a time each day when a child is meant to go sit on the toilet, there’s a much lower risk of them holding out and keeping their stools in.

Furthermore, normalization of going to the washroom is also an important thing to cultivate. Especially in new environments such as school, it’s important that your child knows that they can always go to the washroom and there shouldn’t be any pressure to hold anything in.

This is compounded when a child first begins toilet training. Some may find this task daunting and choose to avoid it. But making the act comfortable and even fun can go a long way. This plays into the cultivation of healthy bowel habits because even if a child feels like they don’t need to go, it can still be beneficial for them to sit on a toilet for a few minutes at a set time each day.

Next Steps and When to Escalate

While most cases should not lead to a doctor’s visit, it’s good to know the signs of when you should escalate a case of constipation.

These signs include things such as there being blood in the stool, vomiting, or a fever that lasts longer than 24 hours. These can be signs of underlying issues that need to be fixed. Constipation in a newborn should also be considered abnormal. Lastly, sudden weight loss is another thing to investigate.

Nevertheless, for most cases, some prune juice and time will be all you need for your child to be having bowel movements comfortably once again.

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