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Constipation in children

5-minute read

What is constipation?

Your child is constipated if they are doing hard poo or have trouble pushing poo out. If your child is constipated, they probably aren't pooing regularly either.

Many healthy children have problems with constipation from time to time. It is fairly common in babies, and also tends to happen around the time of toilet training.

What is normal for children?

Constipation in kids is quite common, but usually doesn't have a serious cause. There are plenty of things you can do to help if your child gets constipated.

Normal bowel habits for children vary. Most children have a bowel movement at least once every 2 or 3 days, but some may go up to 3 times a day. Some breastfed babies may only open their bowels once a week, while others may have a poo after each feed.

Symptoms of constipation in children

Signs that your child could be constipated include:

  • seeming uncomfortable or in pain when doing a poo
  • becoming irritable or upset, or refusing to sit on the toilet
  • getting tummy pain that comes and goes
  • not having a good appetite
  • rocking or fidgeting, crossing their legs and looking like they are trying not to poo
  • pooing in their pants

Some children who are constipated also have an anal fissure. This is a small split in the anus that causes pain and bleeding. This occurs because they have been straining to pass poo.

In babies, constipation can cause dry and crumbly poos. It can also cause pain while pooing.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes constipation in children?

Constipation in babies can happen if they aren't having enough breastmilk or if their formula isn't made up properly. It can also develop when solid foods are started.

Children can become constipated if they:

  • hold back bowel movements, instead of going when the urge arises. This can happen if it's been painful for them to poo before
  • don't eat enough fibre
  • have an illness that makes them eat and drink less
  • drink too much milk and don't eat enough solid foods
  • take certain medications, such as some cough medicines

Constipation often affects toddlers during toilet training, and older children sometimes become constipated when starting school. Only a few children get constipated because of a medical condition.

How is constipation treated?

It's important to act if your child is constipated since it can make them very uncomfortable. Long-term constipation can also cause problems such as faecal incontinence (soiling).

Toddlers and older children

You can help your child by teaching healthy bowel habits, such as not holding on. Get them to sit on the toilet after meals and make sure they are comfortable on the toilet. They may need a foot stool or a toilet ring to ensure they are in the right position. Praise your child when they sit on the toilet, even if they don't do a poo.

Talk with your child if they are worried about going to the toilet. For older children, make sure they have easy access to toilets at pre-school or school. Try adding high fibre foods to your child's diet. You could give them a natural laxative such as prune juice. To make it taste better, try mixing it with another juice, or freeze it to make icy poles.

Read more on laxatives.

Babies

If your baby is younger than 12 months and you think they may be constipated, take them to see your doctor. Changing formulas may be an option for formula-fed babies with constipation.

When to see a doctor

If the treatment measures above don't work, see a doctor for further advice.

Your child needs medical attention if they:

  • haven't done a poo in a week
  • poo when they didn't mean to
  • have other symptoms, like fever or vomiting
  • have a very sore anus
  • aren't eating or drinking enough
  • need laxatives more than a few times per year

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This information was originally published on healthdirect - Constipation in children.

Last reviewed: May 2022


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Need more information?

Constipation in children - MyDr.com.au

When children are constipated, they have stools that are hard, dry and difficult (or painful) to pass. Constipation in kids is usually behavioural and caused by their decision to delay going to the toilet. 

Read more on myDr website

Constipation | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Constipation is a common problem in childhood

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Constipation and children - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Constipation in babies and children | Raising Children Network

Children with constipation have hard poo that’s difficult to push out. A high-fibre diet and regular toileting usually helps. Some children need laxatives.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Faecal incontinence in children (encopresis) - MyDr.com.au

Underwear soiling (also known as faecal incontinence) is a problem that arises in children commonly as a result of ongoing constipation. Treatment is similar to that recommended for constipation.

Read more on myDr website

Faecal incontinence, soiling or encopresis | Raising Children Network

Faecal incontinence or encopresis is when children who are past the age of toilet training can’t control when and where they do a poo. It can be treated.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Stomach pain: children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

‘I’ve got a sore tummy.’ Children often get stomach pain and it can have many different causes. Find out when to see a GP about your child’s stomach ache.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Anaemia in children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

Anaemia is usually caused by not having enough iron in your body. Children with anaemia might look pale and get tired. It’s a good idea to see your doctor.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Urinary incontinence in children | Raising Children Network

Children with urinary incontinence can’t control their bladders and wet themselves in the day. There are many treatments, including behaviour modification.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Cystic fibrosis in children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition that affects the lungs, digestive system and sweat glands. Children with CF need specialised care through life.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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