M.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC
Andie is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Lactation Consultant, and Certified Personal Trainer who thinks of nutrition counseling as equal parts science and sensitivity. She specializes in lactation, sports nutrition, exercise fitness, and weight loss programs.
Many of us know all too well the feeling of being, well, backed up, or constipated. Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week, however feeling ‘backed up’ can happen any time your normal routine is disrupted, stools feel hard, dry, small, painful or difficult to pass or you feel that when you do have a bowel movement it is ‘incomplete’ (known as incomplete evacuation).
Everyone’s body is different -some people regularly move their bowels three times a day while other people only three times a week. Any deviation from your normal can be unpleasant.
So what causes this discomfort and how can we avoid it? Inadequate hydration is one very likely constipation culprit, but certain medications (like painkillers, sedatives and blood pressure medication), certain supplements (iron or calcium, common in pre and postnatal vitamins), getting little or no physical activity and eating a diet low in fiber can also cause constipation. In infants, formula can also cause constipation when first introduced, especially if used in the first month of life, while baby’s tiny digestive system is still growing and developing. This often resolves on its own.
When you are dehydrated, your body reabsorbs water from your colon leaving your stools hard, dry and difficult to pass. It is important for babies, toddlers and adults alike to drink enough fluids to keep their bodies properly hydrated and bowels moving regularly.
Babies under 6 months old
Healthy babies under 6 months do not need extra supplemental liquids (such as water, juice, milk or milk alternatives) because they receive adequate hydration and nutrients from breastmilk or formula or a combination. On occasion, your child’s pediatrician may recommend a tiny amount of prune juice for constipation.
Babies 6 to 12 months old
While breastmilk and formula remain the main source of hydration (and nutrition!) at this stage, you can begin offering water (in an open cup) with meals when you introduce solids. Between meals, you can also offer water in a straw or an open cup.
Babies and toddlers older than 12 months
Offer water with meals and throughout the day and allow your baby to drink when she is thirsty.
Women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding need approximately 8 (8oz) cups of fluids daily. Pregnant women’s needs increase to approximately 10 (8 oz) cups of fluids daily, or more if you aren’t eating enough produce which is high in water. And breastfeeding women need 13 (8 oz) cups of fluids each day, or, again, more if you aren’t eating enough produce.
Despite these recommended values, the best rule of thumb for preventing dehydration (or overhydration!) is to drink regularly throughout the day, offer fluids often and drink when you’re thirsty – water is the best choice!
For additional information on the role of exercise, diet, and medications on constipation, refer to What can I do to manage constipation?
Hydrate with water
Bored with plain water? Jazz it up by adding fruit (think berries, melons, citrus), herbs, cucumber, naturally flavored ice cubes (freeze chopped fruit and herbs with water in ice cube trays) or a splash of juice to seltzer water.
Limit fruit juice, soda (diet and regular), and alcohol (avoid completely if pregnant).
Rehydrate as needed
Make sure to increase fluid intake with excessive sweating, diarrhea or fever.
Drink regularly to keep regular!
Follow the simple rule of drinking when you are thirsty.
If you find that you go a long time without drinking water and are constantly playing ‘catch-up’, speak with a Happy Family Coach about creating a drinking schedule that works for you.
If you feel that you are adequately hydrated but continue to suffer from constipation, speak with a Happy Family Coach or healthcare provider about additional measures.
Offer water regularly and throughout the day
Older babies and children often eat meals and snacks on a set schedule every day. Incorporate water in addition to milk (children 1 year and older) into the eating schedule right along with meals and snacks, and offer water in-between.
If you’re suffering from morning sickness or reflux (pregnancy-induced or otherwise), try to sip water throughout the day (as opposed to drinking large amounts quickly) separate from your meals.
Eat plenty of high fiber foods
Fruits and vegetables are not only full of water to help keep you hydrated, but also fiber to help keep things moving.
Other foods rich in fiber are whole grains (think quinoa, millet, brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas), nuts, seeds and beans.
And be sure to drink extra water before, during and after a workout to replenish what you’ve lost from sweating.