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First Aid Refreshers, part 8: Constipation

March 27, 2012

First Aid

constipation is no laughing matterOkay, right off the bat, we’ll just say that this is no one’s favorite topic.  And maybe you have no personal issues with this (right now).  But, those who join you may or changes in diet in the future may make this an issue for you too.  So let’s go ahead and discuss prevention and treatment.

By definition, it is the inability to “go” for several days or pain in “going” because it’s hard.  But you don’t have to get far out of your normal routine to begin feeling badly.  Prevention is best, so we’ll start there.

Prevention

One the best ways to keep good bowel health is to eat a lot of fiber.  Most of us know that, but as a reminder, high-fiber foods include fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, and some seeds.  Planning your food storage to include those is very wise.

You know my interest in incorporating beans in daily fare.  Freeze-dried fruits and veggies are very lightweight and retain almost all of their original nutrition.  Grains you grind yourself for bread-making will be “whole” because they will include all layers of the grain, including bran.  Pumpkin and sunflower seeds can be grown each year and saved.  Foods high in fiber pass through the body more quickly on the whole.  They generally act as a system flush by quickly carrying away wastes that the body cannot use or could be harmful.

getting fiber into your dietIf you can maintain a yogurt culture for those ever popular “probiotics,” this can really help also.  They add the good “flora and fauna” back to the gut, especially after a round of antibiotics (which often cause bowel problems by knocking out the good guys as well as the bad).

Another important factor to remember is hydration.  One of the main functions of the large intestine is to reclaim water from the waste matter.  As mentioned above, high fiber foods do not spend as long in the colon so less water is reabsorbed.  This keeps the waste from getting dry and therefore hard and uncomfortable to pass.  If the body is not getting sufficient water, this will worsen the problem of constipation.

Treatment

Breastfed babies are not very prone to constipation since their diet is liquid and very easy to digest (for most anyway).  Formula-fed babies are a bit more prone, but women will have to nurse their children in a total collapse situation since formula will quickly run out.

Older babies and toddlers making the transition to solid foods may begin having problems as their bodies adjust to the unfamiliar foods.  Always begin with small amounts of the same thing for several days.  This allows the digestive tract to build up the necessary bacteria and enzymes to break down the food.  Introducing too much volume or too many new things at once will probably cause problems- either diarrhea or constipation.  Either way will make both you and baby sorry.

Another time that young children seem to have this problem is when they begin potty training.  It often coincides with a new pickiness in eating habits, so you have the combination of less healthy diet and learning to control the bowels.  The child who now refuses to eat any vegetables may also be trying to hold his stool too long to avoid having to stop playing. Most of our children have had significant issues with constipation at that point.  There have been days of straining at a time and many tears.  Once a child expects “going” to hurt, he will often try very hard not to go, making the problem worse and worse.  It can be very stressful for everyone, so again, prevention by diet is the best strategy when possible.

Right now, we have the luxury of prescription or OTC medications to assist when they become miserable.  I will certainly try to stock those to the best of my ability, but we have one on the verge of potty-training now and two more coming up.  If things fell apart tomorrow, I would like not have enough stored at this point to last for at least 2 more children.

Here are some other ways we try to keep them regular:

1.  Limit the amount of milk–  our pediatrician says that can contribute, especially whole milk.  Two glasses a day is sufficient.  Unless you either store lots of powdered milk or have dairy animals, this will be a moot point anyway.  Prune juice in small amounts is good too, but you will probably run out of that at some point.

2.  Add ground flax seed to his cereal or whatever he reliably eats.  I put it in homemade bread, etc.  It adds extra fiber.  Unground, it will store well like other grains.  You can use a hand grinder immediately before use so you get the most nutritional benefit.

3.  Have the child soak in warm water– essentially let him play in the tub a long time, but be ready to pull him out in a hurry when he gets that “look” on his face.

4.  Have him lie across our laps on his belly on a hot water bottle while we rock-  this seems to help move things through like a warm gentle massaging.  This works for infants also.

5.  Encourage activity–  the more active the child is, the more the gut is stimulated to move the contents along.  People who are sedentary or bedridden will often develop constipation from lack of activity if not from decreased appetite/poor diet.

For older children or adults, many of the above can be used or adapted.  You can also use stored OTCs like Metamucil, Milk of Magnesia, and “overnight” stool softeners to help (as long as they last), but enemas may become necessary in extreme cases.  You will want to have a re-usable way to give them.  Often hot water bottles come with tubing and so on for that purpose.  Of course, wash VERY well in between uses.

NOTE:  I am not medically trained and cannot give a “professional opinion” on the methods recommended in the above link or on when exactly it is appropriate to give an enema.  Please do your own research and/or consult with a doctor.  It is possible to cause pain and harm if too much liquid is forced into the colon and intestines.

plantain is a natural laxativeA natural form of fiber laxative is found in plantain seed.  Almost certainly, you have this growing nearby since it is a pervasive “weed.”  The stalks that grow up from the center of the basal rosette will get tiny flowers on them and then become seeds.  Those brown seeds can be used like ground flax seed in cereal etc.  They have the benefit of soothing the gut with mucilage as it passes through.  Plantain is a wonderful medicinal plant.

For additional ideas about natural remedies, see this site.

Do you have any other ideas for prevention or treatment?  Please share in the comments section.

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4 Comments on “First Aid Refreshers, part 8: Constipation”

  1. Carolynn Navarrate Says:

    Fiber foods are required if you want to maintain digestive system health at optimum levels. –

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  2. Shelton Uhlenhopp Says:

    Almost everyone gets constipated at some time during his or her life. It affects approximately 2% of the population in the U.S. Women and the elderly are more commonly affected. Though not usually serious, constipation can be a concern.,

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] First Aid Refreshers, part 8: Constipation […]

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