Constipation in Children | Health & Fitness

Chris Woolston

How can I tell if my child is constipated?

Don’t count it by the number of trips your child makes to the bathroom. Some children need to poop twice a day; others go only once every two or three days. Unless it’s been four or more days since your child’s last bowel movement, you probably don’t need to worry. The important thing is how easily she goes, not how often. If he has large or hard stools that are bothering him, he is constipated and needs your help.

A single uncomfortable bowel movement can make your child anxious about using the bathroom, and that’s where the trouble starts. Some children begin to postpone bowel movements as long as possible. Others may use the bathroom every day, but don’t take enough time to completely empty the lower colon. Either way, stool can build up in the colon, causing it to stretch and lead to painful cramps. An enlarged colon can lead to larger-than-normal stools, possibly large enough to clog the toilet. Heavily soiled underwear can be another sign of constipation: liquid stool can slip through the obstruction in the lower intestine and catch the child by surprise.

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You may also notice some changes at the dinner table. If your child is constipated, she may often have a poor appetite or not eat much at one sitting. Also, her appetite can spike after a large bowel movement and then quickly subside.

What causes constipation?

Many factors can set the process in motion. If your child fights the urge to have a bowel movement (for example, because he doesn’t like to use the bathrooms at school), his stools are likely to become large and hard. Dehydration, which often follows a bout of diarrhea or other illness, can also harden stools. And while diet alone doesn’t usually cause constipation, a diet of high-fat, low-fiber foods (including lots of snacks and pastries) can definitely make it worse. Regularly eating a lot of dairy products, especially cheese, can also contribute to constipation.

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In rare cases, constipation is a sign of hypothyroidism or lead poisoning. Your pediatrician should check for these and other possible disorders if your child’s constipation is an almost constant problem.

Most cases of constipation are easily treated at home. You can soften your child’s stool by giving him prune juice and making sure he drinks plenty of other fluids. Exercise and frequent servings of whole-wheat bread, bran cereals, oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, popcorn (for older children), and other high-fiber foods will also help. Avoid or limit cooked carrots and squash, as well as large amounts of dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.

You may also need to encourage him to use the bathroom as soon as he feels the urge to have a bowel movement. If she’s still having trouble, suggest she spend five to 10 minutes in the bathroom after each breakfast and dinner; you may find yourself in a new, healthy routine. Talk to him about spending time in the bathroom in a practical way, never in anger, so that he feels relaxed about the procedure.

Although stool softeners and some laxatives such as Metamucil are generally safe and effective in small doses, most children can get relief without these medications. If a doctor recommends them for your child, use them with confidence. Otherwise, skip them. And don’t give your child a suppository or an enema unless your pediatrician tells you it’s a good idea.

When does my child need a doctor?

Call your pediatrician if:

  • You are worried about your son.
  • Your child has gone more than four days without a bowel movement.
  • Your constipation has lasted more than two or three weeks.
  • You’re dirtying your clothes.
  • The problem is interfering with your normal activities.
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Your child’s doctor can determine the cause of the constipation and help you develop a strategy to relieve it. He may recommend further dietary or behavioral changes, or prescribe laxatives or stool softeners.

If your child has severe pain when passing stool or if there is blood in the stool, he or she may have a small tear in the lining of the anus. Although this type of tear, called an anal fissure, will eventually heal on its own, a doctor can speed up the process with stool-softening medications.

And remember: constipation may just be a sign that your child needs more exercise, as well as more fiber and water in their diet.

Pantell, Robert HMD, James F. Fries MD, and Donald M. Vickery MD Caring for Your Child: An Illustrated Parent’s Guide to Complete Health Care, Eighth edition. Da Capo life books.

Stephen M. Borowitz, Chronic Constipation and Encopresis in Children, Children’s Medical Center, University of Virginia:

nemours Foundation, KidsHealth.org. Constipation. http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/constipation.html

Originally posted on consumer.healthday.compart of TownNews Content Exchange.