Updated: Jan 4
Constipation in Children - A common problem in early years
Constipation is a common problem in children. Children with constipation have stools (also called poops or bowel movements—BMs) that are hard, dry, and difficult or painful to get out. Some children with constipation have infrequent stools. Although constipation can cause discomfort and pain, it's usually temporary. If left untreated, symptoms could get worse.
What is a normal bowel pattern?
Bowel patterns (when and how often stools are passed) vary from child to child just as they do in adults. What's normal for your child may be different from what's normal for another child. Most children have BMs 1 or 2 times a day. Other children may have BMs every 2 to 3 days.
Symptoms of constipation in children
Your child may be constipated if:
• they have not done a poo at least 3 times in the last week
• their poo is large and hard
• their poo looks like "rabbit droppings" or little pellets
• they are straining or in pain when they poo
• they have some bleeding during or after having a poo, because their poo is large and hard
• they have a poor appetite or stomach pain that improves after they poo.
Causes of constipation in children
Constipation in children has many possible causes. Sometimes there's no obvious reason.
Some of the possible causes include:
• not eating enough high-fibre foods like fruit and veg
• not drinking enough fluids
• feeling pressured or being regularly interrupted while potty (or toilet) training
• feeling worried or anxious about something – such as moving house, the arrival of a new baby, or starting nursery or school
• If your child is constipated they may find it painful to poo, which may mean they do not want to try to poo. This can create a vicious circle; the more they hold back, the more constipated they get.
How to prevent constipation
• Make sure your child has plenty to drink
• Give your child a variety of foods, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, which are a good source of fibre.
• Encourage your child to be physically active.
• Get your child into a routine of regularly sitting on the potty or toilet, after meals or before bed, and praise them whether or not they poo. This is particularly important for potty-trained boys, who may forget about pooing once they are weeing standing up.
• Make sure your child can rest their feet flat on the floor or a step when they're using the potty or toilet, to get them in a good position for pooing.
• Ask if they feel worried about using the potty or toilet – some children do not want to poo in certain situations, such as at nursery or school.
• Stay calm and reassuring, so that your child does not see going to the toilet as a stressful situation – you want your child to see pooing as a normal part of life, not something to be ashamed of.
If you'd like advice about taking the stress out of going to the toilet for your child, speak to your child’s doctor.
Treatment of constipation
Your child's doctor may prescribe medicine to soften or remove the stool. Do not give your child laxatives or enemas unless you check with the doctor. These drugs can be harmful to children if used wrong. After the stool is removed, your child's doctor may suggest ways you can help your child develop good bowel habits to prevent stools from backing up again.