Constipation in children is a common problem. A constipated child has infrequent bowel movements or hard, dry stools.
Encouraging your child to make simple dietary changes — such as eating more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and drinking more water — can go a long way toward alleviating constipation. If your child’s doctor approves, it may be possible to treat a child’s constipation with laxatives.
Constipation most commonly occurs when waste or stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract, causing the stool to become hard and dry.
Many factors can contribute to constipation in children, including:
Your child may ignore the urge to have a bowel movement because he or she is afraid of the toilet or doesn’t want to take a break from play. Some children withhold when they’re away from home because they’re uncomfortable using public toilets.
Painful bowel movements caused by large, hard stools also may lead to withholding. If it hurts to poop, your child may try to avoid a repeat of the distressing experience.
▪️ Toilet training issues.
If you begin toilet training too soon, your child may rebel and hold in stool. If toilet training becomes a battle of wills, a voluntary decision to ignore the urge to poop can quickly become an involuntary habit that’s tough to change.
▪️ Changes in diet.
Not enough fiber-rich fruits and vegetables or fluid in your child’s diet may cause constipation. One of the more common times for children to become constipated is when they’re switching from an all-liquid diet to one that includes solid foods.
▪️ Changes in routine.
Any changes in your child’s routine — such as travel, hot weather or stress — can affect bowel function. Children are also more likely to experience constipation when they first start school outside of the home.Medications. Certain antidepressants and various other drugs can contribute to constipation.
▪️ Cow’s milk allergy.
An allergy to cow’s milk or consuming too many dairy products (cheese and cow’s milk) sometimes leads to constipation.
▪️ Family history.
Children who have family members who have experienced constipation are more likely to develop constipation. This may be due to shared genetic or environmental factors.
▪️ Medical conditions.
Rarely, constipation in children indicates an anatomic malformation, a metabolic or digestive system problem, or another underlying condition.
Signs and symptoms of constipation in children may include:
1. Less than three bowel movements a week.
2. Bowel movements that are hard, dry and difficult to pass.
3. Pain while having a bowel movement.
4. Stomach pain.
5. Traces of liquid or pasty stool in your child’s underwear — a sign that stool is backed up in the rectum.
6. Blood on the surface of hard stool.
If your child fears that having a bowel movement will hurt, he or she may try to avoid it. You may notice your child crossing his or her legs, clenching his or her buttocks, twisting his or her body, or making faces when attempting to hold stool.
To help prevent constipation in children:
1. Offer your child high-fiber foods.
A diet rich in fiber can help your child’s body form soft, bulky stool. Serve your child more high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole-grain cereals and breads. If your child isn’t used to a high-fiber diet, start by adding just several grams of fiber a day to prevent gas and bloating.The recommended intake for dietary fiber is 14 grams for every 1,000 calories in your child’s diet.For younger children, this translates to an intake of about 20 grams of dietary fiber a day. For adolescent girls and young women, it’s 29 grams a day. And for adolescent boys and young men, it’s 38 grams a day.
2. Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids.
Water is often the best.
3. Promote physical activity.
Regular physical activity helps stimulate normal bowel function.
4. Create a toilet routine.
Regularly set aside time after meals for your child to use the toilet. If necessary, provide a footstool so that your child is comfortable sitting on the toilet and has enough leverage to release a stool.
5. Remind your child to heed nature’s call.
Some children get so wrapped up in play that they ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. If such delays occur often, they can contribute to constipation.
6. Be supportive.
Reward your child’s efforts, not results. Give children small rewards for trying to move their bowels. Possible rewards include stickers or a special book or game that’s only available after (or possibly during) toilet time. And don’t punish a child who has soiled his or her underwear.
7. Review medications.
If your child is taking a medication that causes constipation, ask his or her doctor about other options.
Depending on the circumstances, your child’s doctor may recommend:
▪️ Over-the-counter fiber supplements or stool softeners.
If your child doesn’t get a lot of fiber in his or her diet, adding an over-the-counter fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or Citrucel, might help. However, your child needs to drink at least 32 ounces (about 1 liter) of water daily for these products to work well. Check with your child’s doctor to find out the right dose for your child’s age and weight.Glycerin suppositories can be used to soften the stool in children who can’t swallow pills. Talk with your child’s doctor about the right way to use these products.
▪️ A laxative or enema.
If an accumulation of fecal material creates a blockage, your child’s doctor may suggest a laxative or enema to help remove the blockage. Examples include polyethylene glycol (GlycoLax, MiraLax, others) and mineral oil.Never give your child a laxative or enema without the doctor’s OK and instructions on the proper dose.
▪️ Hospital enema.
Sometimes a child may be so severely constipated that he or she needs to be hospitalized for a short time to be given a stronger enema that will clear the bowel (disimpaction).Infant constipation isn’t common. However, your baby might have infant constipation if he or she has:
▪️ Hard or pellet-like bowel movements.
▪️ Bowel movements that appear difficult to pass, causing your baby to arch his or her back or cry.
▪️ Infrequent or less frequent bowel movements.
If your newborn seems constipated, contact his or her doctor for advice. But keep in mind that the normal amount of bowel movements an infant passes varies depending on his or her age and what he or she is eating. Infants also have weak abdominal muscles and often strain during bowel movements. Infant constipation is unlikely if your baby passes a soft bowel movement after a few minutes of straining.
Infant constipation often begins when a baby starts eating solid foods. If your baby seems constipated, consider simple dietary changes:
▪️ Water or fruit juice.
Offer your baby a small amount of water or a daily serving of 100 percent apple, prune or pear juice in addition to usual feedings. These juices contain sorbitol, a sweetener that acts like a laxative. Start with 2 to 4 ounces (about 60 to 120 milliliters), and experiment to determine whether your baby needs more or less.
▪️ Baby food.
If your baby is eating solid foods, try pureed peas or prunes, which contain more fiber than other fruits and vegetables. Offer whole wheat, barley or multigrain cereals, which contain more fiber than rice cereal.
If your baby is struggling, it’s been a few days since his or her last bowel movement, and dietary changes haven’t been effective, it might help to place an infant glycerin suppository into your baby’s anus. However, glycerin suppositories are only meant for occasional use. Don’t use mineral oil, stimulant laxatives or enemas to treat infant constipation.
Rarely, infant constipation is caused by an underlying condition, such as Hirschsprung’s disease, hypothyroidism or cystic fibrosis. If infant constipation persists despite dietary changes or is accompanied by other signs or symptoms — such as vomiting or weakness — contact your baby’s doctor.
Constipation in children/www.mayoclinic.org
Infant constipation/ www.mayoclinic.org