Constipation is common in children, particularly after painful bowel motions. Children are more prone to constipation around the time they are weaned onto solids (4-6 months old), begin toilet training (2-4 years old) and start school (5-6 years old).
Parents often become worried about their child’s bowel habits, but remember it is a change in the child’s ‘normal’ bowel habit that is important and every child’s ‘normal’ is different.
What causes constipation in children?
Constipation in children is commonly associated with behavioural factors, such as ‘holding on’, which can be caused by:
- Experiencing pain when they pass stools
- Being too busy playing to find time to go to the toilet
- Being frightened they might fall in the toilet
- Being worried about using unfamiliar toilets
Other causes include:
- A lack of fibre and/or fluid in their diet
- Small tears in the skin around the anus causing pain
- An underlying medical problem
In babies, constipation is usually related to:
- The strength or type of formula being used
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Solid foods that aren’t appropriate for the baby’s age
Occasionally, constipation may be due to another problem and it is important to consult your healthcare professional. Constipation in babies is rare and should always be checked by a doctor.
How do I know if my child is constipated?
Important signs to look out for are hard or dry stools as well as reduced frequency of bowel motions.
Other common indications include:
- Stomach pain and cramps
- Reduced appetite
- Irritable behaviour
- Small tears in the skin around the anus (anal fissures)
- Holding on behaviours, such as crossing legs or refusing to use the toilet to avoid painful poos
- Soiling underwear with runny poo, which can happen when the child has constipation for a prolonged time
How can I manage my child’s constipation?
- Establish a regular toilet routine and encourage your child to use the toilet at a similar time each day – using a star chart reward system can help
- When sitting on the toilet, help them feel secure and supported by providing a footstool
- Discourage ‘holding on’ and ignoring the urge to go
- Encourage a well-balanced diet, high in fibre, including fruits, vegetables and whole-grain bread and less processed cereals to add bulk to their stool and help stay regular
- Make sure they drink plenty of water, especially if dehydration is contributing to constipation
- Keeping a diary of how often your child passes stools and what they are like, can help keep track of what is happening and help identify potential problems
Which constipation treatments can help?
If lifestyle changes don’t work well, short-term use of a laxative may help restore their normal bowel habit.
It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor or pharmacist on how best to manage your child’s constipation and they can give you the best advice on whether a laxative is suitable for your child.
It’s important to discuss with your doctor if your child continues to be constipated or if you are making changes to their diet. If your baby is constipated, always consult your doctor for advice.
Some constipation treatments are specially designed for children and infants. For example, Coloxyl Oral Drops is a gentle stool softener formulated for the relief of constipation in children aged up to 3 years.