It’s not a fun conversation, but we all know parenting isn’t always fun. And potty training, poop talk, and understanding constipation in kids is an important part of the job.

Constipation simply means infrequent passage of stool (faeces). It is a condition in which you have fewer than three bowel movements a week with mostly hard and dry stools. Most often, constipation is not a cause of an underlying disease. It is a side-effect of a stressful and unhealthy lifestyle in adults and working professionals. Other reasons for constipation include dehydration, lack of fiber in your diet, no or minimal physical activity, and medications.

Constipation is also commonly seen in children. Usually, it causes more distress to parents and other caregivers than to the affected child. Constipation in children means the same as it is in adults - fewer than 3 bowel movements a week, characterized by hard and dry stools. 

Every child’s bowel habit is different. The frequency is different in infants when compared to a 2 or 3-year-old child. As your baby grows up, into a toddler and then a young child, you will notice changes in their stool frequency and consistency, which largely depends on what your child is eating.

  • Remember that passing stools anywhere between three times a day to once every other day is common and normal in young children. 

  • If your child’s bowel movement is less than once in 2 days, then it is likely that he/she has constipation. 

What are the causes of constipation in children?

  • Withholding the urge to have a bowel movement because he or she is afraid of the toilet or doesn't want to take a break from play or does not wish to use the toilet at school or in a public place.

  • Pain while passing stools may lead to withholding. If your child’s bowel movements hurt, then he/she will most likely avoid using the toilet.

  • Changes in daily routine, such as travel, hot weather, or stress — can affect bowel function. 

  • Changes in the diet of your child. Lack of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables or fluids in your child's diet may cause constipation. 

  • Certain medications and antidepressants.

  • Toilet training, either too soon or too late can cause constipation in children. If you begin toilet training too soon, your child may rebel and hold the stools. Delayed toilet training can also lead to refusal.

  • Consuming too many dairy products (cheese and cow's milk).

  • Family history of constipation and other stomach problems.

How to know when your child is constipated?

Knowing when kids are constipated can be tricky – especially when they are so young that they cannot verbalize their symptoms. 

Common signs of constipation in children include:

  • Less than three bowel movements a week.

  • Hard stools that are difficult to pass.

  • Cramps, stomach aches, or nausea.

  • Rectal bleeding (bleeding from the anal passage). This may be a sign of a serious condition.

  • Urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control), frequent urination, or bed-wetting (nighttime urinary incontinence).  These symptoms might be signs of a serious condition.

  • Soiling is when a child who is toilet trained, passes stools in his or her own underwear or elsewhere, except the toilet. Changes in behaviour such as a decrease in appetite or increase in crankiness

What are some tips and home remedies to prevent and treat constipation in children?

1. Keep track of your child's bowel movements. Encourage your child to make regular visits to the bathroom. Constipation can occur when kids “hold it” too long. Set a timer during potty training to remind kids to try more often. Remember to remind the older kids too, that it’s not good to “hold it” too long.

2. Talk openly about bathroom habits. Some kids find using the bathroom and talking about it embarrassing. Make sure you stay neutral or even positive when discussing bathroom habits with your child so he/she feels comfortable with it and does not shy away.

3. Praise your child often. In their article, ‘No More Potty Problems!’, explains: “Praise, praise, and praise some more. Just as you do during potty training, heap praise and congratulations on a child who successfully poops, despite his/her apprehension. The more pain-free reps you can stack up, the less the fear.”  And don’t forget that praise is important when children try even though they were unsuccessful. 

4. Consult with your paediatrician/physician. If you suspect your child may be suffering from constipation for the first time, consult your paediatrician/physician. Sometimes, constipation can be due to an illness or certain medications. Your child’s paediatrician/physician can help to rule either of these out. 

5. Include enough fiber and fluids in your child’s diet. Fiber can speed up the movement of waste materials through your child’s intestines, thus preventing constipation. Drinking enough water and fluids help soften stool and keeps the stomach happy and cool. 

Here are few effective tips that may help you incorporate fibers in your child’s diet:

  • Make your little one eat plenty of fiber-rich fruits like apples, oranges, pears, figs, or raspberries. Don’t peel off the outer skin of fruits like apples and pears, so that your kid gets enough fiber.

  • Add one or two fiber-rich vegetables to your kid’s diet. As the vegetables are low in calories and a rich source of nutrients, they help boost overall body growth.

  • Add beans or lentils to your kid’s tossed salad, pizza, and soups. Buy whole-grain and whole-wheat bread and pasta for your kids.

  • Add a small quantity of wheat bran, oat bran, or ground flax for different baking dishes. Sprinkle dried fruit, nuts, or seeds into your kid’s cereal, salads, or yogurt.

  • Replace white rice with different forms of whole-grain products like oatmeal or wheat bran. You can also serve brown rice to your growing kid.

  • Encourage your growing kid to eat fruits instead of drinking fruit juice.

If these suggestions do not work for your child, immediately consult a your paediatrician/physician.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.