Recognizing and Treating Constipation in Children

Constipation is common at all ages, but because there are many “normal” patterns for bowel movements it can be difficult to know exactly when your child is having an issue. Your child may be constipated if he or she is experiencing:

  • Hard, large and/or dry stools
  • Pain when having a bowel movement
  • Blood on the stool or toilet tissue
  • Abdominal pain that goes away after having a bowel movement
  • Abrupt change to less frequent bowel movements
  • Accidents or soiling

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to constipation, including a change in diet, not drinking enough fluids, changes in daily routine, or reluctance to use the restroom in an unfamiliar place. Once bowel movements become painful, children may begin to withhold future stools, causing constipation to become worse.

Most children will occasionally become constipated. The problem is usually short-lived and will not cause any long-term problems. Typically, home treatment is all that is needed to relieve occasional constipation. You can begin by making adjustments to your child’s diet:

  • Infants: Constipation is uncommon in infants who are breastfed. If your child is formula-fed, you may want to consider changing to a different brand or type. Before making any changes to your baby’s diet, it’s important to talk with your pediatrician.
  • Toddlers and Older Children: To relieve constipation, you should try to include high-fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your child’s diet, while limiting foods like rice, bananas, cheese and white bread. You may also try increasing the amount of fluid your child drinks. While this should primarily be water, small amounts of prune or pear juice may also help.

If your child is toilet trained, you can also take steps to make your child more comfortable during the bowel movement process. Encourage your child to sit on the toilet and try to go, praising his or her efforts. Make sure that your child is comfortable on the toilet and, if necessary, that his or her feet are supported by a small bench to aid efforts. If your child becomes constipated during the toilet training process, it is best to take a break and try again when your child may be less stressed.

In some cases, your child’s constipation may be severe or chronic enough to require medical treatment. If this is the case, talk with your pediatrician about your options – a stool softener or laxative may be prescribed. There are many safe options available, but these should only be given to children after consulting with your pediatrician.

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