Constipation in children
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.
What are the 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.
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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.
When should I see my 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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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.
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.
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This information was originally published on healthdirect - Constipation in children.
Last reviewed: May 2022