Article at a Glance
- Common causes of constipation include changes in diet, changes in schedule, and potty training.
- If your child has not had a bowel movement in three days or if your child is experiencing pain during bowel movements, you should be concerned about constipation.
- You can treat mild constipation at home by making changes to your child’s diet and helping your child develop a healthy bowel pattern.
Constipation is common in children. It is often caused by a change in diet or waiting too long to pass stool.
What are common causes of constipation?
- The most common cause of constipation for young children is potty training or a change in schedule. For example, children often withhold stool if they don’t want to use the toilet or if they are too busy playing. It is also common for children who are starting school to hold it because they don’t want to use the public restrooms.
- Diets high in dairy or low in fiber are also common causes of constipation. If your child eats a lot of cheese and milk and not many high-fiber foods, then a simple change in diet can help.
- Not drinking enough fluids generally isn’t the only cause of constipation, but it can be a contributor.
- Children who have had a painful bowel movement might start to withhold stools to avoid pain.
How can I tell if my child is constipated?
It is a good idea to keep tabs on your children’s bathroom habits so that you are familiar with how often they usually have a bowel movement, how much stool they produce, and the consistency of the stool. This will allow you to more easily notice a problem.
What to watch for:
Does your child experience pain while passing stool? Going to the bathroom shouldn’t hurt. You should be concerned if your child is experiencing pain during bowel movements. Also, although brief straining is common during a bowel movement, anything over 10 minutes can mean there is a problem.
It is common for a baby to grunt and strain, or even become red in the face while passing stool. However, if your baby cries while passing stool, you should call your doctor.
Has your child not had a bowel movement in three or more days? How often a child passes stool can vary widely. But typically, children pass stool anywhere from three times a day to once every two days. Babies over a month old will often poop every four to seven days, but breastfed newborns often poop after every meal. If your child hasn’t gone in three days, you will want to start treatment for constipation. Waiting too long before passing a bowel movement can result in pain and straining.
How do I treat constipation in my child?
There are several things you can do at home to help with constipation:
- Give your child 100% fruit juice. Most helpful are apple, prune, grape, pear, and cherry juice; however, citrus juices are not helpful.
- Increase your child’s fiber intake by serving foods like peaches, apricots, bananas, broccoli, pears, peas, beans, prunes, figs, or dates. Whole grain foods like oatmeal, bran flakes, brown rice, and whole wheat bread are also helpful.
- Decrease the amount of milk products you serve your child. For example, you should limit foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream to only three servings a day.
- If you are potty training and your child is withholding stool or is constipated, it is a good idea to take a little break. Praise your child for passing stool and avoid any punishment or pressure. Don’t force your child to sit on the toilet as this can result in a power struggle.
- If your child is already potty trained, set up a normal routine for sitting on the toilet. The best time is right after meals for about ten minutes. After a meal, the bowels are more ready to pass stool and it will help your child’s body to establish a normal bowel pattern. Remind children not to hold it when they need to go.
- Warm water can also help children relax, making it easier to pass stool. Try a warm bath or rubbing a warm cotton ball from side to side on the anus.
Helpful tips for treating constipation in babies:
- It can be hard to pass a stool while lying down. Try holding your baby’s knees against your baby’s chest in order to mimic a squatting position.
- For babies over one month, try adding one ounce of 100% pear or apple juice per month of age. For example, a four-month-old baby would drink 4 ounces of juice a day.
When should I call my doctor about constipation?
Usually mild constipation can be treated at home, but you should call your doctor if you are concerned or if your child is bleeding from the anus, is withholding stool, is leaking stool, has three or more painful bowel movements, gets constipated frequently, has symptoms that last more than a week, or doesn’t improve after a change in diet. If you are potty training and your child is struggling with constipation, you should also call your pediatrician to get help.
Call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room if your child experiences stomach or rectal pain for over an hour, if your child’s stomach looks swollen and your child is vomiting, or if your child looks or acts really sick.
For more information:
Abdominal Pain – Female
Abdominal Pain – Male
Abdominal Pain, Recurrent
New Report Sheds Some Light on Bedwetting
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