When your child screams in pain because of hard stools, it changes the way you think about their nutrition and well-being.
At 12-months old, my girl was a chuckling, laughing toddler. She was not a fussy eater and was sleeping through the night. All this made life so much easier for me. I thought I had hit the jackpot!
The day everything changed
But everything changed when she turned 18 months old. I had recently started potty training her, in preparation for day care. She had her little potty and would happily sit on it and poop. Now, let me tell you, that this was not a difficult job, because even when she was little, she pooped only every other day, making her bowel movements predictable.
When other parents talked about their children pooping every day, I was concerned. But a quick research led me to believe that it was normal for her to not poop every day, and so I did not pay much attention to it. In hindsight I feel, I should have at least spoken to my doctor about it.
I still remember the day when my happy smiling little girl transformed into a shrieking, crying toddler. It was a Saturday and as usual I set up the potty in the bathroom and went to get my daughter. She held my hand happily and came along till the bathroom door. The moment she realised we were going into the bathroom she began screaming and saying "no…no….no".
My cheerful child suddenly turned into a mass of tears and screams. I was completely taken aback and couldn't figure out what was the cause of this extreme reaction. Then it dawned on me that she simply did not want to poop and was clutching to her diaper so hard that I could not pull it down.
I tried to calm her down by taking her away from the bathroom. Then I tried to take her potty again in the evening, and it led to the exact same reaction. I assumed she was just having a “moment” and let this pass and thought I would try again the next day.
It was a repeat performance on Sunday. Only this time the screaming was louder and accompanied by many more tears. I simply could not figure out what was wrong, till I realized that the last time she had gone to poo was 4 days ago.
She was clearly avoiding passing a bowel movement.
Starting on the wrong foot
From being a relaxed, happy-go-lucky mum, I suddenly became aggressive with my daughter, yelling at her to go sit on the potty and do what she was supposed to do. After another day, during which she was given lots of water, prune juice and some more green vegetables, she was made to sit on the potty again. She continued to cry, but when she was passing her bowel she shrieked in real agony. I checked the potty afterwards and saw that the stool was hard and big.
This then became a repeat pattern for the next few weeks. From being a happy household, ours became one where she was crying and shrieking in pain, while I alternated between yelling at her, crying in frustration, and feeling guilty.
After about six weeks of this, I realized that this was not normal and we needed to do something drastic to change this.
Finally getting it right
I finally went to see the doctor, who had suggested I make dietary changes to my daughters’ diet. This included increasing her water intake and fiber, as well as ensuring that she has a balanced diet. The doctor explained that my daughter’s gut and digestive health are very important and if I did not work towards solving the issue of hard stools and withholding of bowel movement, it could possibly lead to abdominal pain and also poor moods. I have already begun to see signs of the latter and alarm bells began to ring for me.
My single point agenda became to ensure that she had normal stool consistency and pooed regularly.
I ruled out the use of quick fixes like laxatives, suppositories and stool softeners as I wanted a long term, sustainable answer for my daughter’s health and well-being. I wanted a more preventive approach rather than a curative one. So I focused on her nutrition – I tried to ensure that she had adequate fibre intake, which would help her build up to a good bowel movement.
Another thing that I learned during my research was the importance of prebiotics in helping promote good bowel movements and preventing hard stools. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Prebiotics are found in food sources like artichokes, onions and leeks. But besides those food sources, I was quite surprised to find out that they can also been found in growing up milk added with prebiotics, something which my daughter is now having as part of her daily diet.
My advice to other parents
It has been two years since this incident and I have to say that the changes to her diet and the introduction of prebiotics have helped my little girl a lot. I have not had another poo-related screaming or crying incident since.
To other parents out there, I would say that if your child is passing hard stools, please don’t ignore it. In fact, I would say, take it very seriously, go see your doctor and start applying preventive measures. Regular and smooth bowel movements can really go a long way in making our little ones happier.
1Keunen K, van Elburg RM, van Bel F, Banders MJNL. Impact of nutrition on brain development and its neuroprotective implications following preterm birth. Pediatr Res. 2015 Jan;77(1-2):148-155.
2Lyte M. Microbial endocrinology in the microbiome-gut-brain axis: how bacterial production and utilization of neurochemicals influence behaviour.
PLoSPathog. Nov 2013; 9(11): e100372. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003726 (accessed May 5, 2017)
3Elsevier. Stress affects the balance of bacteria in the gut and immune response. [Internet] ScienceDaily; 2011 [updated Mar 22, 2011] Retrieved from: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110321094231.htm (accessed May 5, 2017).
4Daniels, N (2015) How to Parent your Anxious Toddler.
5Pediatrics. Toilet training guidelines: parents – the role of the parents in toilet training. Pediatr. 1999;103(3): 1362-63.
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