When Your Child Has Constipation
Constipation is a common problem in children. Your child has constipation if he or she has stools that are hard and dry, which often leads to straining or difficulty passing stool.
What causes constipation?
Constipation can be caused by:
Too little fiber in the diet
Too little liquid in the diet
Not enough exercise
Painful past bowel movements. This can lead to your child “holding” his or her stool.
Stress and anxiety issues. These can include changes in routine or problems at home or school.
Physical problems. These can include abnormalities of the colon or rectum.
Recent illness or surgery. This could be from dehydration and medicines.
What are common symptoms of constipation?
Feeling the urge to pass stool, but not being able to
Bloating and gas
How is constipation diagnosed?
The healthcare provider examines your child. You’ll be asked about your child’s symptoms, diet, health, and daily routine. The healthcare provider may also order some tests or X-rays to rule out other problems.
How is constipation treated?
The healthcare provider can talk to you about treatment options. Your child may need to:
Eat more fiber and drink more liquids. Fiber is found in most whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It adds bulk and absorbs water to soften stool. This helps stool pass through the colon more easily. Drinking water and moderate amounts of certain fruit juices, such as prune or apple juice, can also help soften stool.
Get more exercise. Exercise can help the colon work better and ease constipation.
Take stool softeners. The healthcare provider may suggest stool softeners for your child. Your child should take them until bowel movements become more regular and the diet is adjusted. Discuss with your child's healthcare provider exactly which medicines to give you child and for how long.
Do bowel retraining. The healthcare provider may tell you to have your child sit on the toilet for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times a day. The best time to do this is after a meal. This helps the child relearn the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement.
Call the healthcare provider if your child
Is vomiting repeatedly or has green or bloody vomit
Remains constipated for more than 2 weeks
Has blood mixed in the stool or has very dark or tarry stools
Repeatedly soils his or her underpants
Cries or complains about belly pain not relieved with the passage of gas
October 03, 2017
Chronic functional constipation and fecal incontinence in infants and children: Treatment. UpToDate., Clinical Practice Guidelines for Pediatric Constipation. Greenwald, Beverly J. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. 2010;22(7):s332–S338., Constipation in infants and children: Evaluation. UpToDate., Prevention and treatment of acute constipation in infants and children. UpToDate.
Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP,Lehrer, Jenifer, MD