Diet and Constipation

Diet and Constipation

Constipation is when a child has hard bowel movements or when they do not go to the toilet regularly. There is a large variation in what will be a ‘normal’ bowel motion from one child to the next and the only time you need to worry about the consistency or frequency of your child’s bowel movements is if they are experiencing any other troubling symptoms at the same time. These symptoms can range from:

  • Regular abdominal pain
  • Straining when trying to pass bowel motions
  • Regular bloating and gas
  • Fluctuating between hard ‘rabbit dropping’ motions and loose watery motions
  • A reduction in appetite
  • General irritability


Your GP or Paediatrician will probably prescribe some laxatives to help your child empty their bowels more efficiently. If you find that these are not effective, or you are unable to stop these medications without the constipation coming back, it might be time to explore a dietary cause of their constipation.

Is my child’s diet causing their constipation?

When children are constipated, one of the common things to look at is the adequacy of both fibre and fluid in their diet.

Some great sources of fibre include:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Legumes such as baked beans, lentils etc
  • Nuts


Fluids should come predominantly from water with small amounts of milk being a good option too. Make sure cow’s milk intake is limited to a maximum of 500ml per day (for children over the age of 18 months) as having more than this can impact your child’s appetite at meal times.

How much fibre is enough fibre?

An easy way to work out how much fibre your child needs is to add 10 to their age. For example, if they are 4 years old, 4+10 =14g of fibre/day

Is a lack of fibre the only cause of constipation?

For some children, constipation is caused by a lack of fibre and fluid in their diet. Often foods like pears, prunes or prune juice will be suggested to assist a child to open their bowels. For other children though, constipation may be a sign of an underlying medical condition or food intolerance. If fibre and fluid do not help your child to open their bowels normally, it is a good idea to visit your GP or Paediatrician again to make sure there is no other cause of the constipation. If you get the all clear, a more tailored diet plan from your dietitian may be required to help them achieve normal bowel function and reduce or ideally stop, their laxative medications.

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