What to Do If Your Child Is Constipated

If your child is having trouble pooping, it’s probably a basic case of constipation.

There’s no simple definition of normal bowel activity in children, but there are three stages when they’re most likely to have problems with constipation:

  • In infants, when you first begin the switch from formula to solid foods
  • In toddlers, when toilet training first begins
  • In older children, around the time they start school

As a parent, there are signs of constipation to watch out for and things you can do to help your little one find relief.

Know the Signs

Your child may be constipated if he’s having any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fewer than three bowel movements per week for children, and for babies, no bowel movement for 2 or 3 days more than usual
  • Your child attempts to hold in his stool -- signs include making faces, crossing his legs, or twisting his body.
  • Hard, dry stools that don’t pass easily
  • Stains and small stool marks in your child’s underwear

Causes

There are many things that can cause your child to become constipated. Some of the most common are:

  • Withholding. Your child may ignore the urge to have a bowel movement because he’s too busy playing to stop and go, or may not be comfortable using a public restroom. He may fear a painful bowel movement or have issues with potty training.
  • Low dietary fiber. Fiber keeps the bowels moving, but many kids don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and grains.
  • Not enough fluids. Water and other liquids help fiber do its job.
  • Medications. Certain medicines, including pain medicines and antacids, can cause constipation in kids.

Remedies to Try at Home

There are several remedies you can try at home to manage your child’s constipation:

  • Make sure your child is getting enough fluids. Most kids need about 3 to 4 glasses of water every day.
  • Add more fiber into your child’s diet. Make sure she’s eating enough fruits, grains and vegetables. Fiber keeps things moving.
  • Make sure your child isn’t overdoing fast food and junk food. They slow down digestion.
  • Limit sodas and tea. They have lots of caffeine in them.
  • Get your child into the habit of regular bowel movements. Have him try for at least 10 minutes two times a day. After a meal is a good time.

If these things don’t seem to do the trick, talk to your child’s doctor about using a mild, child-friendly laxative or stool softener.

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When to See the Doctor

Constipation isn’t usually something to worry about in children, but it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition. If your child’s constipation lasts for more than 2 weeks, something else may be going on. Make an appointment with your pediatrician if you see:

If your child’s constipation is severe, your pediatrician may want to do some tests to figure out what’s causing the problem. He may want to try:

  • Abdominal X-ray. This is a normal X-ray to check for blockage. It is most commonly used to diagnose constipation.
  • Barium enema X-ray. The bowels are coated with a dye so that any problems in the rectum, the colon or the small intestine will clearly be seen on an X-ray. This is not commonly performed.
  • Rectal biopsy. A very small tissue sample is taken to check for abnormal nerve cells in the rectum. There is rarely a need for this procedure.

Remember, there are many reasons your child may experience occasional constipation. It’s usually nothing to worry about. With a few adjustments, your child should be back to normal again in no time.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 23, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Merck Manual: “Constipation in Children.”

Mayo Clinic: “Constipation in children.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library: “Constipation in children.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms & Causes of Constipation in Children.”

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