How to Treat and Prevent Constipation in Kids

When you have a child with constipation, it can be difficult to watch them deal with painful bowel movements. Constipation is a fairly common experience in children, but how do you know when it's a problem? Your child has constipation when they have fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Their bowel movements may also be painful, and the stool may be hard, dry, and large. Thankfully, constipation in children is easy to treat and prevent with a few lifestyle changes.

Symptoms of constipation in children

It's usually not hard to miss the signs of constipation. Your child will most likely have painful (or nonexistent) bowel movements. Besides painful bowel movements, your child may show these symptoms if they're constipated.

  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • A small amount of blood on the toilet paper
  • Bowel movements that are difficult to pass and straining when stooling
  • Stool that is hard, unusually large, and dry, small, and pellet-like
  • Pain while having a bowel movement
  • Fewer than three bowel movements in a week

Causes

Your child may be constipated because of reasons ranging from stress to diet. Some of the reasons might include:

  • Not eating enough fiber or getting enough liquids on a regular basis.
  • Kids who eat lots of processed foods, dairy products or meats tend to become constipated more easily.
  • Certain medications have side-effects that include constipation.
  • Your child chooses to not have a bowel movement even when they have the urge to go. This could be related to stress, potty-training, going to the bathroom in certain places, or fear of pain when they need to pass a stool.

Treatment and prevention

Constipation is easily treatable and even preventable. You won't need to put your child on medications for the rest of their life or take drastic measures. Instead, make the following lifestyle changes to help prevent and treat constipation in your child.

  • Prioritize fluids. Liquids help move stool through your child's intestines. School-age children need at least 3-4 glasses of water each day. If your child is dealing with a difficult case, try giving them prune juice daily until the problem clears itself up.
  • Include more fiber. Fiber isn't easily digested, so it helps move stool through your child's bowels. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, popcorn, and other whole grains. Start adding fiber to your child's diet slowly. Add more water and other fluids as you increase fiber because water helps fiber work through your child's system.
  • Eat at regular times. Eating stimulates the bowels naturally, and it will help your child regulate their bathroom habits. Think about your routine and see if you can alter eating times slightly to leave time for your child to go to the bathroom before moving on to the next activity (school, sports activities, etc.).
  • Teach your child to regulate their bathroom needs. Some children will fight going to the bathroom, even if they need to go. If this is your child's problem, have them sit on the toilet for at least 10 minutes every day, at the same time each day. After meals is typically a great time. This will teach your child regular bathroom habits.
  • Get moving. Exercise helps our bowels to work well. So get out and exercise with your child. Ride bikes, play a game of touch football, or race around the yard together. No matter what you choose, the physical activity can help encourage your child's body to work to the best of its ability.

When to see a doctor

Most cases of constipation won't need you to rush your child to the doctor. However, constipation can lead to complications or can even indicate that something more serious is wrong. If your child's been constipated for more than two weeks and experiences the following symptoms, you'll want to schedule a visit to the doctor as soon as possible.

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Tearing around the anus
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the stool
  • Fever
  • Intestines "falling out" of the anus (rectal prolapse)

Constipation in Children: Understanding and Treating This Common Problem