Constipation in Children: When to Worry

Constipation in children is a condition that can be easy to overlook and can have long term effects if not treated. The good news is that it is treatable, regardless of when it begins. The sooner you can identify the problem, the easier it is to treat.

It’s important to know that constipation is a progressive condition meaning, the longer it lasts, the worse it gets. A child could have constipation for years if left untreated.

Constipation is the lack of or painful bowel movements with dry, hard stool. Here we are going to discuss the symptoms of constipation in children and when it’s time to worry.

What is Constipation?

Bathroom Habits

Look for infrequent bowel movements. Children should be passing stool at least 3-5 times a week. A good rule of thumb is that if the child is going less than three times a week, he or she may be developing constipation or already may be constipated.

Stools that Clog the Toilet

Early on with constipation, your child may pass large stools that clog the toilet. This stool may be large in diameter and seem to be dry.

You should note that it’s likely embarrassing for the child and you should do your best to avoid making the situation a big deal. By doing so, you may further the problem.

Dirty Underwear

Children tend to hold in their stool during all stages of the condition. Early on, you should pay attention to the severity of the stain. However, this sign alone is not a guarantee that your child is constipated. Some stains could be due to poor wiping habits and not a complication from constipation. Use your best judgment and educate your little one appropriately.

Cause of Constipation

The root cause of constipation in children could be a variety of different things:

Dietary Changes

When your little one begins eating solid foods, this is when the possibility of developing constipation begins.

Changes in Routine

This could be as simple as weather changes, traveling, or being in unfamiliar environments. Another high potential situation that could lead to constipation is when the child begins going to school.

A different environment with new people can create stress and contribute to your little one holding their bowel movements until they return home.

Fighting the Urge

Often, delaying having a bowel movement is the problem. This could be due to a few different things. The most obvious and the most common is because the child doesn’t want to stop playing or quit the activity they are enjoying. Children get wrapped up in games with others, and they do whatever they can to avoid going to the bathroom.

Another reason children withhold is due to being in new and uncomfortable environments. Many children don’t like to use toilets at school or in public.

When the child is away from home all day at school or at a babysitters, the child may avoid using the toilets and wait until they get home.

The last reason and probably most severe reason a child withholds is because of painful bowel movements. They have likely had a bowel movement in the past that was hard and uncomfortable.

This is a difficult problem to manage because withholding makes the problem worse. By holding it in, the stools will only harden more inside of the body and be even more difficult to pass when they finally do go to the bathroom.

Treatment of Constipation

There are a couple of things that can be done at home to treat constipation.

Stool softeners sold over the counter are a good starting point. These will do precisely as the name says – soften the stool.

This will be effective for early-stage constipation. As mentioned before, constipation could progress for years, and in cases of late treatment, stool softeners may not completely solve the problem.

Laxatives are beneficial IF recommended by their pediatrician. They should be combined with stool softeners to lessen the potential of painful bowel movements.

Children typically need to stay home from school until treatment with laxatives is over. Make sure you read the instructions thoroughly and follow them.

Enemas are another option, as well. However, most children don’t tolerate them as well as adults. Enemas are still a valid option, but I would recommend talking with your pediatrician before use.

When to Worry

If constipation goes untreated for some time, the complications and symptoms are likely to become more severe. More severe means more evident in this situation. Here are some key points that should be of concern:

  • Physically Ill – Fever or vomiting
  • Abdomen hard and protruding
  • Blood in underwear or stool
  • Skin tears around the anus or hemorrhoids

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to get a doctor involved. When you see these complications, the effects of constipation have the potential to start affecting other parts of the body.

Don’t spend any more time on home remedies at this point. It’s time to get a professional involved. Your child’s healthcare professional will treat them and give directions on how to continue treatment at home.

How to Prevent Constipation in the Future

Now that the problem’s resolved, it’s important to take a few steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Drink lots of fluids

Preferably from water. The fluids will soften the stool while still in the intestine and make it easier to pass.

High Fiber Diet

Incorporate more fruits and veggies in the diet as well as whole grains. Fiber helps add bulk to stool and make them softer, making it easier to pass.

Bathroom Breaks

If the child’s problem is withholding or not taking the time to go to the bathroom, make sure to schedule times for them to use the bathroom every day.

Often, this is in the morning right after breakfast or in the evening after dinner. If the child makes it a habit, the body will too.

Say Goodbye To Constipation

Through a little observation, parents can identify constipation in their child by focusing on their bathroom habits and diet. Keep an eye for early signs that there may be a problem. Remember that constipation can be caused by a variety of things and can last months or years if not treated.

Over the counter treatments are beneficial, but don’t be afraid to get a doctor involved when the complications become more severe. As with most things, prevention is the best treatment.