Constipation effects both children and adults, let's get to the bottom of it

Posted by Melissa Callaghan on

Isn’t it funny how adults don’t really talk about their bowel motions, however when it comes to children it is one of the most talked about topics every day.

Maybe this is just my experience from over 20 years working with children and parents. I usually have many conversations in a day around children’s stool movements.

It is often the case as a parent that we can become quite anxious about our child and this especially includes their daily motions. It usually starts when they are a baby and we count how many soiled nappies there are. We spend a lot of time focusing on the changes.

What is normal and what is abnormal?

Babies often pass one to several movements per day often after each feed but this can also vary to once every couple of days. It is not really the frequency that is important it is all about the consistency. There is usually a difference between the stools of a breast-fed baby to a formula fed baby and this is related to digestion as breast milk is easier to digest. Breast-fed babies have looser stools and babies on formula tend to have bulkier stools and smellier as well as their digestive system is still immature and struggles to break down the protein. As they grow into a toddler the consistency can also change depending on what they are eating.

A normal stool for a child and adult is soft, well-formed and passed easily without pain.

It is the abnormal that we need to be concerned about!!

Every child is different and as a parent you will begin to see your child’s pattern for stool movements. Each child will have differences in frequency and consistency but these differences are usually consistent for that child.

As an adult you may just think your toilet habits are normal. Unless you are going at least once a day, then it isn't normal.

Also when there is a change to this consistency we need to pay attention. Constipation is one of the most common changes that will occur.

When you are constipated:

- it hurts to go to the toilet
- stools are harder
- difficult to pass
- motions become less regular than normal
- small amount of blood due to small tears in the skin of the anus
- loss of appetite
- regular soiling of pants in children can be mistaken for diarrhoea but can be a sign of impaction, as softer poo leaks out around a solid lump and dirties the underpants.

There will also be changes in consistency such as:

- an increase in the size of the stool
- an increase in the firmness of the stool
- stools are more pebble or pellet like
- stools can be dry and crumbly

Some signs that your child may show to indicate constipation:

- Saying hurts when you have a motion
- Running around, crying or refusing to sit on toilet
- Complaining of stomach pain
- Traces of a clay like stool in the toilet or pants

There are two main types of constipation. The common type is known as Idiopathic constipation and this is common, short bouts of constipation are common and usually settle quite quickly. Long term constipation can become a problem and this is known as Chronic constipation. Short bouts and chronic constipation are both idiopathic meaning that according to the GP there is no underlying disease or condition causing the constipation. In saying that Naturopaths have a very different opinion about the cause as we believe the gut microbiome plays a huge role in constipation.

The other type is known as secondary which is when there is an underlying cause of the constipation. These may include:

- Neurological conditions
- Underactive thyroid
- Cystic fibrosis
- Certain medications and supplements
- And a rare disease known as Hirschsprung’s disease which involves the abnormal development of the bowel

Damage to the digestive system and it's ability to function can begin from birth. Your gut microbiome will build differently depending on whether the birth was natural or c-section. Further changes will also depend on exposure to microbes. If a child is raised in a sterile environment with very little exposure then they will basically have no defense system. Babies need to be in nature too and exposed to microbes everywhere including animals. Their future health depends on it. The first two years are the most important especially if they missed out on the vaginal gulp of bacteria when they come out the birth canal. When the gut microbiome is limited in beneficial bacteria then the opportunistic ones will take over and this may be one that can cause constipation.

Improve you gut microbiome and you will improve your health. Unfortunately this doesn't mean just taking a probiotic (don't believe the marketing and waste your money) most of the time these probiotics are just creating a laxative effect which is why your problem reverses when you stop taking it. You need to take care of the microbiome you built when you were young and build them up.

You also need to know if you have any bad guys in there who are taking over and trying to run the country (your body). For many of my patients who have had severe problems for years we will order a functional medicine test which maps out the gut microbiome and tells exactly who we are dealing with.  This removes the guessing work and gives us the information on who to target rather than generalised treatment (which is ok for the majority of people).

The benefit of working with a naturopath is that treatment is tailored specifically for you.

Who am I?

I am a Bachelor qualified Naturopath who specialises in improving metabolic processes in the body. Major areas for improvement include gut, thyroid, kidney, skin and liver health. Conditions such as hypothyroidism, fatty liver, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, & irritable bowel conditions. I help my patients by giving them symptomatic relief while working on repairing the underlying causes of metabolic stress and waste accumulation. Patients experience amazing results which are seen in their blood tests with improved thyroid markers, cholesterol, and liver markers.  As well as lower blood pressure and see relief from improved gastrointestinal symptoms like the ones that mean you need to know where every single toilet is before you leave the house.

Melissa Callaghan ND, BHSc, BTeach
Clinical Naturopath


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