It happened again last week: We sent our daughter off to a track meet and didn’t double check that she had her water bottle. If we don’t ask at least three times for this child to grab her water bottle, she will not remember it. So she spent an afternoon running in the sun with no breaks to rehydrate.
This is the story of our daughter’s athletic career. She doesn’t remember water bottles, she rarely pauses for drink breaks, and she almost never reports feeling thirsty. Where I know I would be dying of thirst, she just keeps on running, or swimming, or hitting the tennis ball around.
Why is that? Why do some people seem to be very aware of thirst and drinking water all the time, when others just don’t really register thirst?
The answer is … I don’t know. But I do know that it happens. And frequently the kids I see in the clinic for bowel and bladder dysfunction are the “never-thirsties”.
Why does this matter? Because even if your child doesn’t register thirst, they are still using water all the time for their body to function. And if they don’t give their body enough fluids, their body will pull more water out of their poop. And - in the blink of an eye - they’re constipated.
You’ve all heard the advice that adults need eight, eight-ounce cups of water per day. A frequent rule of thumb for kids is that they need about half of their body weight in ounces of water per day. But I have come to believe that these numbers should be fluid (no pun intended). And the quality of water intake is as important as the quantity. Here’s what I mean:
Activity level matters:
Watch your child’s activity level and compare it to your own. Would you do a spin class without downing an extra 16-24 ounces of water during and after the class? What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a jog around the neighborhood or a lunchtime basketball game?
If you’re lucky, your child will spend hours outside playing this summer. They’ll turn your city block into a parkour course, they’ll run the equivalent of a marathon on one piece of playground equipment, they’ll do about a thousand squats playing in the shallow end of the pool with their friends. Their skin is going to be more exposed to the sun, causing them to lose even more hydration than usual. They’re going to need more than half of their body weight in fluid!
Timing of hydration matters:
The body needs water all day long. If you go all day without drinking, your poop is likely to get harder and dryer than usual. But the system doesn’t work as efficiently in reverse: when you chug water at the end of the day, your poop doesn’t rehydrate just as quickly as it got dehydrated. That’s why osmotic laxatives exist - your body needs certain salts and sugars (or, in the case of MiraLax, molecules of polyethylene glycol) to pull water back into the colon and the stool.
And another thing about timing: your body needs water to digest well. So drinking water before and during a meal is a good idea. Especially if the meal consists of insoluble fiber, which I hope it does. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains and adds bulk to your stool. It’s important to get insoluble fiber in your diet, but there’s a big caveat to that: If you’re not drinking a lot of water, insoluble fiber might just get you more backed up.
So if you or your kid is a “never-thirsty”, try to make a habit of drinking more water this summer. The easiest way to start is to drink a nice tall glass of water every morning with breakfast. If you’ve read The Constipation Game Plan (thank you!), I hope you’ve already included this in your morning routine.
Speaking of The Constipation Game Plan, go ahead and order your copy here. Dehydration isn't the only reason your kid is constipated ... Take the time to learn the ins and outs of constipation and develop a game plan for you and your child to manage it!