Medical Q&As

Constipation in children - diet?

My 6-year-old son experiences constipation from time to time. He usually has either “weetabix” or “ready-brek” for his breakfast and this helps. Is there any other food or juice that could gently alleviate the problem?

The main emphasis in dealing with constipation should be on prevention. The two cereals you mention are effective in relieving your child’s constipation because of their roughage or fibre content. Fibre is the non-digestible portion of plant based foods and largely consists of cellulose. The digestive system is unable to digest or break down cellulose therefore this material proceeds through the small intestine and into the colon after the various nutrients have been absorbed from the food. The fibre then constitutes the bulk of the material in the colon and is a major component of the faeces. A high fibre level within the faeces makes the faeces slightly bulkier and softer. This is in contrast to the constipated stool, which is small in bulk and is usually dry and hard. As mentioned earlier plant based foods are the source of fibre and I include in that classification cereals, fruit and vegetables. Therefore a well balanced diet should not only include the proper balance of protein, starch, fat, vitamins and trace metals but should also include adequate amounts of fibre. Breakfast cereals, fresh raw fruit, vegetables and coarse brown bread are all excellent sources of fibre. In addition make sure that your child drinks plenty of water. This also helps to maintain a regular bowel habit. Of course the answer to your question is not specific to children; it applies to all age groups.