Feeling in the mood to talk about your kiddo’s poop? Parenting gets REAL with diaper changes, potty training, and everything else poop-related. If this seems like an awkward topic, just take a second to remember that as a parent you already think about your baby’s bowel movements MANY times in a day. And so does every other parent out there! Since we’re all in this together, let’s jump over the squeamishness of it all and talk about how a little fiber and a lot of love can help keep things moving along “down there.”
Figuring out fiber
Fiber is the hero that can help prevent constipation. Ever wonder how? Soluble fiber soaks up water as it passes through the digestive system, softening stool which then passes through easier. Insoluble fiber bulks up stool so it can keep on moving, not too fast and not too slow, through the digestive system.
You’ll find both soluble and insoluble fiber in most fiber-rich foods—vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and whole grains—though some have more of one than the other. When kids don’t get enough fiber, poops can become tiny and hard, which results in poor movement and ultimately difficulty pooping. It’s also good to know that keeping kids well hydrated will help fiber do its job.
When it’s not easy
When kids struggle and strain to have a bowel movement they can experience pain, and it’s heartbreaking. With this pain, some babies and toddlers will try to hold it in, making matters worse. Sometimes the apparent discomfort on their face is not from trying to “go” but from trying “not to go.” As you can imagine, this makes potty training a huge challenge for some toddlers, and is no fun for anyone involved. Fortunately, fiber-rich foods can help by making bowel movements more comfortable.
The goods for their gut
There are many choices of fiber-rich foods, so even with a picky little eater you’re likely to find a few winners. A common challenge for babies and toddlers, who eat small portions, is getting enough fiber from those foods.
In order to get a meaningful amount of fiber from, say, peas, they’ll need to eat about a half-cup! That’s a lot for most babies and toddlers. The way around this is to offer a wide variety of fiber-rich foods in little portions for little tummies.
How much fiber is right for kids?
There’s a range of recommendations for how much fiber young kids need, depending on what source you look at. This can be confusing, so don’t get bogged down with the numbers. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to know the numbers (we get it), here’s how much fiber is recommended for kids per day, according to the different sources.
Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intake (DRI)
- 1 to 3 years of age needs 19 grams
- 4 to 8 years of age needs 25 grams
American Academy of Pediatrics
- The AAP recommends that kids get daily fiber equal to their age plus 5 grams, as a minimum. For example, a two-year-old would need a minimum of 7 grams.
- The AAP also acknowledges that using the DRI (above) is reasonable.
4 tips when boosting the fiber
in your kid’s meal or snack
Add fiber-rich foods into their diet gradually. Too much fiber too quickly can upset their tummies.
Mix it in.
This opens up a world of possibilities for getting more fiber into foods they already love. For example, try mixing pureed white beans into pasta sauce or ground flaxseed into pancakes.
Change it up.
It’s not about how much of a certain fiber-rich food they can eat at once. It’s about introducing a variety of fiber-rich foods and offering them in small portions.
Personalize the texture.
Some fiber rich foods can have a rough texture. Fortunately, the fiber in food is not affected by how smooth you puree it or how hard you have to mash it. It’s okay to feed your little one in the way you both feel comfortable.
Fiber makes for a happy pooper. But what else?
We talked about how fiber can help your kiddo become a happy pooper (which is such a relief for everyone involved). But fiber has other health perks, too, that become important as they get older.
For example, a diet high in soluble fiber helps reduce the risk of heart disease and helps regulate blood sugar. (3) Also, some foods like oats and barley have a type of fiber that’s been shown to act as a prebiotic, which impacts the gut microflora and may improve our immune system. (4)
By making the tastes of fiber-rich foods familiar to your babies and toddlers, you’re giving their gut a great start, and sparking a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
- Canadian Nutrient File, Health Canada 2015
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central 2019
- Holscher H. Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota Gut Microbes. 2017
- Carlson J. et al. Health effects and sources of prebiotic dietary fiber Curr Dev Nutr. 2018