Diet - constipation

The foods you eat may cause, worsen, or relieve constipation.

Function

Normal poop (stool) patterns are different for everyone. Some people may have a bowel movement more than once a day while others may have one every 2 to 3 days. Normal stools should not be painful or difficult to pass.

Constipation is defined as bowel movements that are infrequent, hard or difficult to pass. Constipation may be a chronic (long-term) problem or occur occasionally. It may result from medications, a medical condition, not enough activity, or a diet too low in fiber or fluid.

Food Sources

Vegetables, fruits (especially dried fruits), and some cereals (whole wheat, bran, or oatmeal) are excellent sources of fiber. It is easy to remember that the harder a vegetable is (like celery), the more fiber it has. For fiber to work, it is very important to drink plenty of water to help with the passage of stool in the intestines.

Recommendations

BABIES

Babies who are breastfed usually do not experience constipation. Bottle-fed infants often do. If you are worried your baby is constipated, contact your baby's doctor. Dietary changes that may help relieve constipation in infants include:

1. Offer 1 - 2 ounces of apple or prune juice from the bottle or by spoon.

2. Babies who have advanced to solids may be offered more fruits and vegetables or small amounts of bran sprinkled on top of cereal (about 1 teaspoon).

3. Babies up to age 6 months should receive most of their fluids from breast milk or formula.

TODDLERS

The diets of older babies and toddlers should start to reflect the recommendations of the food guide plate.

Offer fruits and vegetables with chunkier textures as opposed to strained. Begin to offer more whole grain breads and cereals as your child begins to tolerate a wider variety of foods. Be sure your child is drinking adequate amounts of fluid -- pay attention to this as formula or breast milk feedings decrease.

CHILDREN AND TEENS

The food guide plate is an excellent guide for choosing an appropriate diet. Choose whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Prunes, prune juice, and bran cereals can help.

Adequate fluid intake (8 - 10 cups a day) is also important in preventing constipation. Fluid requirements vary for children based on their size, activity level, and air temperature. To ensure adequate fluids, offer water more frequently during exercise and in warm temperatures.

ADULTS

A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is very effective in treating and preventing constipation. As mentioned above, adequate water intake is as crucial as exercise. Exercise helps stools move through the intestines. A healthy diet and adequate activity is especially important for the elderly, for whom constipation is very common.

Contact your doctor if constipation occurs frequently or lasts longer than 1 or 2 days.

References

Heird WC. The feeding of infants and children. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 42.

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Review Date: 6/14/2011
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California (7/28/2010).
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