What foods are good for a constipated child?

My three-year-old daughter is prone to constipation. Her pediatrician advised us to only allow her to have three cups of milk each day and no apple juice (her favorite). He said apples are okay. What is wrong with apple juice? Are there any other foods she should avoid?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Eating the correct foods is helpful, however, it may also be important to avoid certain foods. Many children, particularly picky eaters, depend to a large extent, on milk for their daily intake of calories and nutrients. Too much milk is a common cause of constipation because it prevents a child from eating enough solid foods to get the daily fiber and bulk they need. Too much juice may cause the same problem, with lots of calories. Although plenty of fluids is important, if the fluids are so filling that it prevents the child from having an appetite for solid foods, constipation can result. By limiting your child's milk intake to two cups and juice to four ounces, you will encourage his appetite for more solids.

Encourage water to satisfy thirst, since it won't fill her up with appetite dampening calories. If she insists on her juice, try to dilute it with water to extend the amount you can safely give her. Your doctor may be discouraging juice because of the sorbitol (a naturally occurring sugar alcohol contained in many fruits) that may cause bloating, cramps and discomfort. A little juice, such as four ounces can actually be beneficial in helping treat diarrhea because of the fluid it offers and the laxative effect.

My guess is your doctor just didn't want you to overdo it on the juice. An apple has the advantage over juice of not only containing fluid and sorbitol, it also has the added fiber contained in the skin and flesh of the fruit.

If making these changes doesn't help your daughter, it may be that her chronic constipation has led to stretching and loss of tone in the bowel. If this is the case, you should see your pediatrician about getting her back on track medically while using diet as an aid. It may mean the use of an enema, followed by stool softeners until her bowel has returned to normal. This combined with an improved diet should lead to softer stools that are easier and less painful to pass.

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