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Get Rid Of Constipation In Children

Children's legs hanging down from a chamber-potConstipation is really, very truly, no fun for anyone. No fun for baby or child, no fun for the parent who worries and watches and cleans the clogged toilet, and clearly nothing wonderful for the sister or brother who waits while a family supports a child in the room next door. In general, constipation is a frustrating, sometimes hugely embarrassing, and often a chronic problem for young children. In my experience, parents worry a lot about hard infant or toddler poop in the diaper (goal is always peanut butter consistency or softer) but it’s when constipation sneaks up on many families in school-aged children that BIG suffering ensues.

I can’t say this loud enough: if you’re worried about constipation in your child do consider seeing your pediatrician, nurse, family doc or physician assistant to make a long-term plan. Constipation DOES get better but do know it’s over weeks to months. When your child’s intestinal tubing is stretched out for weeks it takes weeks to re-configure sometimes — quick fixes won’t be long term solutions. More below on which remedies to use and how.

Constipation sneaks up because after children are toilet trained and wiping themselves (around age 4 or 5) many parents no longer gaze in the toilet bowl so gone are the days of tracking daily poops. Before you reach for OTC medications, consider what is normal and what is not normal when it comes to poop (below). I usually break this down for children (and parents) in visual terms. I talk about things you find outside:

In general, poop in the toilet can look like a pond, a snakea log, or a pebble. When it comes to poop, we’re always looking for snakes. It seems to me that framed this way, school age children can do a better job knowing if they’re constipated or not. We’re looking for  Snakes in the Lake, people! Frame it this way with your child and perhaps they will be more likely to get a glimpse of what they produce in the toilet? Or at least a report?

Lots of foods, hydration and OTC medicines can quickly change the game with constipation. Before I detail more specifics on constipation and highlight some remedies, I do want to call attention to some potential concerns of polyethylene glycol (PEG 3350). The medicine PEG 3350 is an odorless, tasteless laxative that can be easily diluted in juice or water. It’s a big polymer and can’t be absorbed by the intestine so it works by binding to water so that water ingested can’t leave the intestines, colon, and rectum. The great news is it doesn’t cause cramping or more pain and isn’t addictive. Used daily (often for days or weeks) the powder binds to water and disallows the colon to dehydrate the poop so it just doesn’t get hard. Therefore the poop that comes out is soft and often helps produce less painful pooping — and often it comes out more often! It’s commonly sold under both brand (Miralax) and various generic names. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved its use in adults, not children. Currently, PEG 3350 is being studied as well as the bi-products of PEG 3350, specifically ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG), to determine whether it might be absorbed by children and whether use of the laxatives is linked to development of psychiatric or neurodevelopmental problems. The New York Times has done 2 stories on this topic: one in 2012 and one more recently in 2015, both worth a read if you are debating giving your child PEG3350. For children and families with severe constipation often the benefits of using it far outweigh the concerns.

What Is Constipation And Why?

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Constipation, No Fun For Anyone

Constipation is really no fun for anyone. No fun for baby or child, no fun for the parent who cleans the clogged toilet, no fun for the sister or brother who waits while someone works on solving the problem in the room next door. In general, constipation is a frustrating, sometimes embarrassing, and often chronic problem for young children. Here are a few ideas to get rid of the no-fun part and ways to protect your children, support them positively, and avoid dangers that can rarely come from over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Before you reach for OTC medications, consider what is normal and what is not normal when it comes to poop. I usually break this down for children (and parents) in visual terms. I talk about things you find outside.

In general, poop in the toilet can look like a pond, a snakea log, or a pebble. When it comes to poop, we’re always looking for snakes. It seems to me that framed this way, school age children can do a better job knowing if they’re constipated or not. We’re looking for  Snakes in the Lake, people! Frame it this way with your child and perhaps they will be more likely to get a glimpse of what they produce in the toilet?

In my experience, parents worry a lot about hard infant or toddler poop in the diaper but constipation sneaks up on many families to school-aged children. After children are toilet trained and wiping themselves (around age 4 or 5) many parents no longer gaze in the toilet bowl. Long gone are the days of staring at every diaper as parents lose track of the daily poops, how often they poop, and how a child feels when pooping. But first, some definitions: Read More »

How To Help Your Gassy Baby

Things to give to new parents: smart books. Awesome things to give to new parents: books about how babies eat and poop. What and how babies eat and how they fart and poop (and sleep) are basically all new parents think about. I’m not exaggerating — of course the most emotional part of new parenthood is the love and overwhelm that takes us over. But second to it is what the baby eats and how they poop. Period.

I’m standing on my chair clapping as I tell you that Dr. Bryan Vartabedian recently published a new book: Looking Out for Number Two. A candidly written, humorous, scientifically-backed poo bible. It’s an illuminating look into every parent’s secret obsession – their baby’s poop. I am thankful, both as a mom and pediatrician for his sound advice and expertise. Poop is a big topic in almost every well baby exam and I’ve written about it several times (see below). But I haven’t dedicated a post to something so many parents worry about and search for remedies: gas.

Most babies are naturally gassy, but it can be quite painful (obviously) and lead to lots of screaming and thrashing about. Signs that your baby has gas are: crying, pulling their legs into their bellies, wiggling & hard belly.

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6 Tips To Help A Child With Autism Eat Better

There are ways to support picky eaters and children who refuse new foods. I’m back with Dr. Dolezal further discussing feeding challenges for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The first post explored why children with Autism have challenges with eating (almost 90% do). I often say that a typically developing child will not starve with a full refrigerator, but this advice just doesn’t hold up with ASD children. I love Ellyn Satter’s advice and mission in helping adults and children be joyful and confident with eating. Her resource and guidance inspires a “division of responsibility” that basically a parent’s role is most simply to provide great healthy food and a child’s job is to choose what and how much of it to eat. But we have to acknowledge that parents to children with ASD need more information about challenges and often far more support. Here are Dr. Dolezal’s 6 tips to help a child with autism, or any child who choses to eat only a few, certain foods, eat better.

Children who graze are really not open to trying new things. — Dr. Dolezal

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Why Children With Autism Struggle With Eating

If you’re a parent to a child on the autism spectrum, take some comfort in knowing that up to about 90% of children with autism struggle with significant eating challenges. You are NOT alone in this. The challenges can range from picky eating to dependence upon PediaSure or g-tube for caloric intake. We know that children thrive in an expected world. But children with autism can take that to the margin where a preoccupation with sameness can drive them to eat only the same thing every day. Despite these staggering numbers, there are evidenced-based treatments and models of care that can help improve the lives of children and families from a nutritional and quality of life perspective. I had the pleasure of having Dr. Danielle Dolezal on the podcast to discuss this topic. The first podcast here is an overview of why children with Autism Spectrum disorders have these challenges with eating.

Rigidity and sameness contributes greatly to feeding picture. Eating is one of the most sensory experiences you can have.” ~Dr. Dolezal

Dr. Dolezal is the Clinical Supervisor of the Pediatric Feeding Program at Seattle Children’s Autism Center. She’s super smartypants and created the highly sought after (nearly 500 families on the wait list, unfortunately) interdisciplinary team model and program at the Autism Center. That means patients that have multiple factors contributing to feeding issues (medical, skill, motor, physiologic, and psychology) get to see a variety of team members under 1 roof. She started off her career with a masters in special education with special emphasis in early childhood and children who struggle with severe challenging behavior. She then got her PhD in child psychology with further emphasis in behavior analysis specializing in feeding disorders and severe challenging behavior. So needless to say….she knows her stuff. Her podcast is so good. Insistence on sameness is a common theme and can be horribly challenging for families who worry about their child’s nutrition.

A Few Quick Tips:

  • Try to not let your child slip into patterns of grazing, which is very common and leads to disrupted hunger/satiety patterns. This makes it difficult for them to try new foods because they graze to take the edge of the hunger all day long and are never really sitting down to eat a full meal at set meal times. They will be more apt and ready to try new foods if you keep to a set schedule. They don’t have to stay seated in a seat. They can stand up. But the food stays at the table.
  • Try celebrating and reinforce flexibility with something the child is already doing. So if they are eating dry/crunchy textures, try branching out to ANY type of cracker. Go from white cheddar Cheez-It to regular Cheez-It. Celebrate that as a new learning experience and new demonstration of flexibility.

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On Motion Sickness

I really love this TEDEd video explaining motion sickness. What I find most helpful is the admission that we humans still know very little about motion sickness, why gender differences exist (women get motion disturbance more often than men), and how to put a stop to it. No question children get motion sickness well before they’re old enough to tell us exactly how they feel. Often it’s screaming or fussing only in the car or a series of vomiting episodes that clues us in. A few tips for families, planning that last-minute summer road trip, to help support children who are prone to get sick in the car, on the train, at the park, or up in the air during a bumpy ride.

Motion Sickness In Children

  • Disconnect: Know that motion sickness comes about when there is a disconnect between what our eyes see, what the fluid in our inner ears knows about our position and direction, what our skin senses, and what our muscles feel while we’re positioned wherever we are. This disconnect in all these sensors around our body leaves the brain “confused” and for unknown reasons we’re left feeling nauseated, uneasy or achy. This can happen quickly and can happen even on a swing at the park. It really doesn’t take a jet airplane or an automobile driving quickly on a curvy road to elicit this unease and malaise. This can happen in the back yard! There’s often another disconnect, for those who don’t get motion sickness there is often little insight into how horrible a child or adult can feel while experiencing this. This reality, of course, only increases the displeasure for the person ill. But know this, some experts observe that everyone, given enough mismatch and motion–say a group of people in a life-raft in turbulent seas–will get sick from motion.
  • Common: Motion sickness is fairly common with most reports stating that 1/4 to 1/3 of adults may experience it. In school-age children, a recent European study found the prevalence of motion sickness was 43.4 % in car, 43.2 % on bus, 11.7 % on park swing, and 11.6 % on Ferris wheel. Like adults, most children report dizziness, nausea, or headache when their body is triggered by motion. And although some research claims motion sickness doesn’t start until age 2, I’ve certainly learned from parents that some young children don’t love riding in the car and show it. More preventing and treating it:

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Mix And Match: Goldilocks Formula

Often new parents are nervous about mixing and matching infant formula they offer their babies. They worry if they switch from one formula brand to another, they may cause their baby fussiness, stool changes, upset or worse–that they could put their baby at risk.

It’s safe to mix and match infant formulas if you are following standard mixing instructions. Really.

Although spitting up or gassiness is usually not due to the protein in formula (cow’s milk versus soy versus hypoallergenic), sometimes changing formula helps new babies and their parents who worry. Switching them up can even help clarify worries in some scenarios when a parent worries about excessive gassiness, intolerance, or significant urping or spitting up.

Experimentation with formula brands in an otherwise healthy newborn is okay. But it’s not necessary at all, either.

It’s fine to make a bottle that is ½ formula from the blue can and ½ formula from the yellow one. Fine to serve Simulac one week, Enfamil the next, Earth’s Best or Goodstart followed by Soy formula the following day. Fine to buy one brand that’s on sale only to buy the other brand next week. Read More »

Pee, Patience, And Parenting At 35,000 Feet

Recently while on the plane, O wet his pants. Lovely really. He’d refused to pee prior to getting on the plane. Refused to pee at home. Essentially, O refused to pee “on command.” No surprise for a strong-willed-spirited just turned 3 year-old. And after he wet his pants, he then proceeded to have about 14 accidents (yes, I’m exaggerating) later that same day as we traveled to his grandparents’ home. Instead of being patient, supportive, and perfect, the husband and I realized we were just plain-old disappointed. And full of judgment.

Potty training takes patience, perseverance and a positive attitude. Many days we don’t have all three, all at once.

O had mastered his potty-trained world well over the last month or so and the wetting accidents weren’t on our to-do list. He’d been dry all day for a number of weeks. The frequency he was wetting on that particular Wednesday coupled with the inconvenience of it being a travel day just wasn’t my pleasure. Although he’d delayed pooping in the potty for a few months (also totally normal but uber-frustrating, too), that had all resolved some months back. The accidents felt like an inconvenience. And although as a pediatrician, I know how to lend advice in this area, it’s the taking advice part that is more of a challenge.

After age 3, when a child shows resistance to using the potty the “right” thing to do, is to carry on with a smile, stop providing reminders for your child, show that you’re unflappable and continue to praise success. Ignore potty failures, praise potty success.

But it is a seriously difficult task at 35,000 feet when surrounded by pee. Consequently, we spent part of the holiday nudging each other about how terrible we were and how we needed to move from D&J (disappointed and judging) to P&C (patient and compassionate).

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If It Were My Child: No Teething Tablets

On Saturday, the FDA released a recall of Hyland’s teething tablets. The recall stems from concerns for increased and varying amounts of belladonna, a toxic substance that could cause serious systemic effects to babies. It’s unclear how much belladonna is found in these tablets normally although it is well known it’s in them. Recently, infants have developed symptoms consistent with belladonna toxicity after using the tablets (change in consciousness, constipation, skin flushing, dry mouth). Homeopathic supplements and medications are unregulated and therefore it’s hard to know what is in them, how consistent one bottle is from the next, and how different brands of the same products compare. Local and national poison control previously deemed teething tablets safe even though it is known that they have trace amounts of belladonna (and possible caffeine). The FDA states it is “unaware of any proven clinical benefit from the product.” Because of safety concerns and no known benefit, I’ve always recommended against using teething tablets. If it were my child, I didn’t, and would not use teething tablets. If you have these at home, throw them out. Here’s some FDA tips of safe disposal of unwanted medications. If your child has had these tablets in the past, there is no reason to worry. Ill effects would have been seen soon after using them.

Some Teething Truths: