Constipation stinks. Sad babes, upset tums, sore bums…none of it is fun. In Part I of this constipation series, we covered the common causes of constipation and the easy ways you can prevent them at home. Think of that post as your first line of defense against constipation. But if you’ve already tried all those things and your toddler is STILL backed up? There’s more for you to try to support their digestion! Let’s look at the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. For medical advice for your child, please seek help from their healthcare provider. This is not a substitute for obtaining medical care.
Probiotics vs. Prebiotics
You’ve probably heard of both PRObiotics and PREbiotics. Or at least, you’ve heard the names! Well, this post focuses on PREbiotics—and the difference between the two. Is one better than the other? Do they do the same thing? Are prebiotics good for toddlers? And if so, when should they be taken? We cover it all!
Looking for info on probiotics? Read my post on how probiotics can help with toddler constipation.
The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics are kind of like a co-dependent couple. (Hear me out!) They have what we call a “symbiotic relationship” which means they both do good things for your toddler’s gut and digestion but ONLY in the presence of one another. And on their own, neither prebiotics or probiotics are that helpful. That’s what I mean about the co-dependent thing—they’re like, “You complete me!” Except in their case, it’s actually true. Because if your toddler eats a bunch of prebiotic foods without probiotics, they won’t reap the specific gut-health benefits (and vice versa).
Prebiotics for Toddler Digestion
Prebiotics are called PREbiotics because they do their job in the gut FIRST. And their job is to support the activity and work that probiotics will do later. You can think of them as food for probiotics to grow. They prime your toddler’s gut so that when the probiotics come in, they have what they need to flourish—creating more “good” bacteria in the GI system. And that good bacteria is part of what helps keep toddlers regular. A bonus to foods that contain prebiotics is that they often contain fiber, too, which we know is helpful for pooping.
Prebiotics for Toddler Constipation
Prebiotics don’t directly prevent or help with constipation, but probiotics can. And without prebiotics, probiotics can’t really do their thing! So if your toddler struggles with constipation, making sure they consume enough pre- and probiotics is a great idea!
Prebiotics for Toddlers: Do You Need A Supplement?
Prebiotics are found in all kinds of foods that most of us eat daily, so your toddler doesn’t need a prebiotic supplement. Instead, serve your toddler plant food sources like fiber-rich, complex carbohydrates, legumes, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and some other foods like honey and certain types of tea. That way, they’ll be sure to get all the prebiotics they need!
When To Consume Prebiotics
There’s no specific right or wrong time for your toddler to eat foods rich in prebiotics. Even though they have “pre” in the name, they don’t need to be consumed first in the meal or early in the day. Working them into most meals or your toddler’s diet overall is great because when your toddler eats prebiotics regularly, their bodies will consistently have more of the “good bacteria” that can help prevent constipation.
Prebiotic Foods for Toddlers
- old-fashioned or steel cut oats
- ground flax
There’s not a specific amount that’s recommended per day. I personally tend to serve at least bananas and/or blueberries most days, and then oatmeal, spinach, ground flax, and chia a couple days a week. Most of these foods end up in our smoothies!
Probiotics for Toddler Digestion
You know all that “good bacteria” we keep saying your toddler’s gut needs? Well, probiotics ARE that good bacteria. Nutritionally speaking, probiotics are pretty famous. They have a really good reputation. And that’s because studies show they can have a positive impact on both gut motility and transit time—meaning they put the movement in bowel movement. So, it’s reasonable to assume that they can help fight constipation. (But to be clear, while they can definitely help with digestion, bowel regularity, and overall GI health, there isn’t clear data to show that consuming probiotics will SOLVE constipation.)
Probiotics for Toddlers: Do You Need A Supplement?
Although they’re super commonly found in supplements like liquids and pills, probiotics are also found in food.
Common probiotic foods are:
- Fermented foods like kimchi and kefir
- Cottage and cheddar cheese
Let’s be honest, though…MANY toddlers wouldn’t touch cottage cheese with a 10-foot pole. Let alone kimchi or tempeh. I get that!
The probiotics in foods are more like a little bonus. They’re not directly going to solve a problem like constipation.
So if your child is struggling with constipation, there are some probiotic supplements that have research to support their use in treating constipation.
I always recommend talking to your child’s pediatrician before starting a supplement of any kind. But probiotic supplements CAN be helpful in dealing with more acute gut symptoms your toddler may be experiencing. And, they are generally considered safe for healthy children. They don’t usually have any negative side effects either—just a few reported cases of occasional gas and bloating. So overall, they’re a pretty safe bet!
Probiotics are not a one-size-fits-all, though. Both the STRAIN and the DOSE need to be correct in order to potentially see results. I go into detail about which probiotics supplements can potentially help constipation in this post on probiotics for toddlers.
When To Consume Probiotics
If your child eats a daily yogurt, they’re likely already getting enough in their overall diet for general health. If you’re looking to directly address constipation, you or your pediatrician might decide to add in a probiotic supplement.
Just remember that this is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you have specific questions about how to best address your child’s gut issues! And again, don’t run straight for the bottle of probiotics. First, make sure you’re offering a variety of fiber-rich prebiotic and probiotic foods, encouraging adequate water intake (one of the biggest fighters of constipation), and regular movement. Those things can all make a big impact on gut motility as well!
Foods That Help Kids Poop
While we’re on the topic of non-supplement ways to get those bowels moving…I thought I’d share a list of foods that help kids poop.
The best foods to help you fight constipation are high-fiber ones, like:
- Fruit and vegetables (with skin on, if possible: skin contains more fiber)
- The best fruits for constipation include:
Fun fact: These are high in sorbitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that’s also acts as a very mild, natural laxative.
- Some fruit juices
- Prune juice
- Pear nectar juice
- Prune-apple juice
- Apple juice
- Sweet potatoes – mash or roast with skin
This isn’t research-backed but I often hear from many parents that sweet potatoes really do the trick for their little one!
- Ground flaxseeds (about 1–2 tbsp for toddlers). Add it into oatmeal, cereal, pancake or waffle batter, smoothies, muffin batter, stews, sauces, chili, cornbread, a PB&J sandwich, or yogurt!
- Chia seeds (1 tbsp a day whole or ground)
- Oatmeal and other whole grains
And a few more that aren’t high in fiber, but do help with constipation:
- Olive oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Ripe bananas (green-ish bananas can be constipating, brown-ish bananas are not)
I got into detail about constipation and WHY these foods help kids poop in Episode 12 of The Mama Knows Nutrition Podcast and this blog post on Foods That Help With Constipation.
Need More Help? Book A Constipation Consultation
We offer 1-on-1 nutrition consults where you can call us up (or hop on Zoom) and ask us anything about YOUR specific child and their nutrition, feeding, or poop-related concerns. They’re perfect for those times when the online advice doesn’t quite cut it or you’re just DONE with Google.