when stools become hard and are difficult to pass. Some parents are overly
concerned about how often their child has bowel movements, because they have
been taught that a healthy child has a bowel movement every day. This is not
true. The frequency of bowel movements is not as important as whether the child
can pass stools easily. Your child is not constipated if his or her stools are
soft and pass easily, even if it has been a few days since the last bowel
Newborns younger than 2 weeks should have at least 1 or
2 bowel movements a day. Babies older than 2 weeks can go 2 days and sometimes
longer between bowel movements. It's usually okay if it takes longer than 2
days, especially if your baby is feeding well and seems comfortable. Breast-fed
babies are more likely to have frequent stools and may have a stool as often as
every feeding. Constipation is likely to occur when a baby changes from breast
milk to formula, especially if this change happens during the first 2 to 3
weeks of life.
As babies grow older, the number of bowel movements
they have each day gets less and the size of their stools gets bigger. A child
age 3 or 4 years may normally have as many as 3 bowel movements a day or as few as 3
It is important for parents to recognize there are many
"normal" patterns for bowel movements in children. Some children may appear to
have trouble passing a stool. The child's face may turn red, and he or she
may strain to pass stool. If the stool is soft and the child does not seem to
have other problems, this is not a concern.
Most children will
occasionally become constipated. The problem is usually short-lived and does
not cause long-term problems. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to
relieve occasional constipation. Causes of constipation include:
- Changes in diet, such as when a child starts
eating more adult foods. Constipation may also occur if your child drinks too
much cow's milk. This happens most often in children younger than age
- Not drinking enough fluids. Sometimes the normal amount of fluid
a child drinks is not enough, such as when the weather gets hot or the child
increases his or her physical activities.
- Not taking the time to
have a bowel movement. A child may be so interested in play that he or she
ignores the need to have a bowel movement.
- Reluctance to use the
bathroom. A child might become constipated when he or she is in a new
environment, such as when traveling.
- Changes in daily routine, such
as when traveling or after starting school.
- Medicines. Many
medicines can cause constipation.
Constipation may occur with cramping and pain if the child is
straining to pass hard, dry stools. He or she may have some bloating and
nausea. There may also be small amounts of bright red blood on the stool caused
by slight tearing (anal fissure) as the stool is pushed
anus. All of these symptoms should stop when the
constipation is relieved.