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Banishing Potty Pain in Kids

One child’s battle against digestive problems

Olivia’s words shed light on the problems she faced a good part of her childhood. Since age 5, Olivia had pain so severe that her parents, Shirley and Keith, took her to the ER several times. The daily episodes eventually landed them in the office of a pediatric gastroenterologist who recommended the Spokane, WA Pediatric Continence Center at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

“When Olivia first visited us, she looked fragile,” says Barb Andrews, RN, coordinator of the Continence Center. The pain, linked to constipation and coupled with asthma, was causing her whole body to regress. Olivia even had fainting spells when the pain became intense.

Olivia’s treatment plan began with learning to eat new foods. Because Olivia was a picky eater who had sensory issues with taste and texture, Andrews gradually introduced new dietary strategies, including cutting down on constipating foods such as cheese and apples, and making good high-fiber choices, and asked Olivia to begin recording her fiber
and fluid intake.

HBolivia_and_barb“The key is that everything makes sense to
the children themselves, not just the parents.”

—Barb Andrews, RN - coordinator of the Pediatric Continence Center

Olivia learned tools to deal with pain, some as simple as breathing slowly when she sensed an episode building. With the aid of a computer that monitors muscle contractions, she learned to contract and relax her pelvic floor muscles. She could see her muscles respond to various activities, like sitting, standing, moving her legs and practicing deep-breathing techniques. These visual aids helped her understand how to strengthen those “potty muscles.” Each week, she worked toward specific goals and tracked her progress on the “I’m the Bowel Boss” sticker chart.

Sacred Heart’s innovative, child-friendly program has helped many children learn to overcome both urinary and bowel dysfunctions. “The key,” Andrews says, “is that everything makes sense to the children themselves, not just the parents.”

To do that, Andrews takes time to identify trigger foods and stressful situations with each child. Kids are rewarded for progress with small treats. At the completion of the program, kids invite friends and family to celebrate their graduation.

“What a gift!”

As parents, Shirley and Keith were amazed at the improvement in their daughter.

“I can’t thank you enough for all you did for Olivia … for empowering her to learn and take control of the situation, for making her accountable and giving her life skills,” Shirley says.

“You never once talked down to her or over her head. You made her feel like a grown-up girl. What a gift!”

—Danita Petek

Does your child need help?

Call the Spokane Continence Center at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital:
(509) 474-3750

Tips from the experts

Constipation in children often begins as young as age 2. To avoid it, parents should make sure kids eat high-fiber foods each day and drink plenty of water. Olivia’s favorite high-fiber foods include:

— Fiber One yogurt
— Franz Net-4 bread
— Orowheat double-fiber English muffins
— Rozini Smart Taste pasta

Other tips from the Spokane Continence Center:

  • Enjoy plenty of fruits, like fresh raspberries and blackberries, as well as popcorn, tortillas, and high-fiber cereals and bars.
  • Avoid foods that increase constipation, like cheese, apples and peanut butter.
  • For pizza lovers, discourage plain cheese pizza and offer ones with veggie or fruit. A whole-wheat crust adds even more fiber.