My child is constipated. Should I worry about it? Constipation is in fact a common concern among parents. This worry often starts when the child is a baby, with concern over the number of dirty diapers. The important thing for parents is to understand that every child is different and their bowel habits can vary quite a bit. Often the frequency of bowel movements is not as important as knowing that the stools are soft and easily passed. What else should parents know about constipation in kids? Read on to find out!
What Parents Should Know About Constipation in Kids
1. Constipation is a very common problem in children
Constipation is defined as infrequent motions or passage of hard stools and it is very common in children, up to 1 in 5 children suffer from it at one time and another.
Constipation is common among young kids because they tend to learn behaviors based on their experiences. Constipated children often have a distressing experience while trying to pass a stool and this unpleasant experience can lead them to avoid going to the bathroom again. This can cause their next bowel movement to be unpleasant, which makes their next bathroom experience even worse. This is how a vicious cycle of constipation can develop.
2. In most cases, constipation is temporary and without underlying medical cause
Though constipation can cause discomfort and pain, it's usually temporary and functional, i.e. without underlying medical issues. So, what causes constipation in children?
Diet is one of the frequent factors contributing to constipation in kids -- not eating enough fiber or eating too much processed food. Not drinking enough water and the lack of physical activity are also common causes of constipation in kids. Additionally, the toilet training process; behavioral and emotional issues resulting from stress; reluctance to use public toilets and consequently, holding poop; and changes in the routine, for example during the holidays or travel; can exacerbate constipation.
Constipation usually resolves itself without the need for medical treatment. In most cases, making lifestyle changes like adding more fruits and vegetables to a child's diet, encouraging physical activity and developing good bowel habits, helps resolve constipation. However, it requires a commitment from both the child and parents.
3. Quick home remedies for constipation in kids
Prevention is the best constipation medicine for kids. But here are a few things that parents can try to help their child poop easily and offer quick relief.
- Juice (prune, apple and pear): 2-4 ounces of fruit juice, especially of fruits that are rich in fiber and sorbitol like prunes, is helpful to treat mild to moderate constipation.
- Abdominal massage and bicycle legs for babies: Studies have shown that abdominal massage can increase the frequency of bowel movements in constipated patients, and decrease the feelings of discomfort and pain that accompany it.
- Milk: Some children develop constipation because they are unable to tolerate the protein in cow's milk. Try limiting cow's milk (and milk products).
If these remedies don't relieve constipation, please check with your child's doctor before using any over the counter laxatives and stool softeners. In addition, if there is vomiting or if you see blood in your child's bowel movement or diaper, parents need to seek medical help immediately.
Constipation in children is very common and certainly an issue to be taken seriously. Parents can help their children by encouraging healthy habits to prevent constipation, recognizing the symptoms if constipation develops, and acting quickly so that it does not become a bigger problem.
- While the frequency of bowel movements is important, it is more important that the stools are soft and easily passed.
- Prevention is the most effective treatment for constipation. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating foods that are rich in fiber, drinking enough water and incorporating regular physical activity is the key to keeping constipation at bay.
- In most cases, home remedies like drinking prune juice relieves constipation. When symptoms do not go away, parents should seek medical help.
- Blood in the poop and vomiting are some of the red flags and need immediate medical attention.
In Inceptive's class 'Parent’s Guide to Managing Constipation in Children', pediatrician Dr. Monica Schwarz Josten talks in-depth about the causes, symptoms, preventions and treatment of constipation in children. She also discusses how to break the vicious cycles of constipation, common medications, stool withholding and tips and tricks for parents to try out. Check it out here.
 Rajindrajith, Shaman, and Niranga Manjuri Devanarayana. “Constipation in children: novel insight into epidemiology, pathophysiology and management.” Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility vol. 17,1 (2011): 35-47. doi:10.5056/jnm.2011.17.1.35.
 Attaluri, A et al. “Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation.” Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics vol. 33,7 (2011): 822-8. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04594.x.
 Sinclair, Marybetts. “The use of abdominal massage to treat chronic constipation.” Journal of bodywork and movement therapies vol. 15,4 (2011): 436-45. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2010.07.007.