Constipation: Constipation in children

What is it?

Constipation is defined as hard, dry and/or difficult to pass stools. This definition does not mention how often the bowel movements occur. Some infants and children have many bowel movements each day and others may go three or four days before having a stool. Both of these scenarios, and all intervals in between, may be normal stool patterns if the child has no other problems.

What are the symptoms?

  • Hard, dry, compact stools that are painful to pass -- resembling rabbit pellets in infants
  • Abdominal pain associated with the sensation of needing to have a bowel movement
  • The relief of belly pain after having a bowel movement
  • The stools may have streaks of blood visible
  • Streaking of blood from the rectum following a bowel movement
  • Chronic soiling of the underwear, in an older child

What can/should be done at home

Before implementing any strategies for constipation, it is recommended you contact your physician first for guidance. However, the following are commonly used methods:

  • Increase fiber in the diet
  • If your child is toilet trained, have him sit on the toilet after each meal for up to 15 minutes to try to have a bowel movement. Praise if successful, but don't punish if child is unable to move his bowels.
  • Do not give a laxative, enema or suppository without consulting your physician first.

When to seek help from your doctor

  • If your baby has hard and difficult to pass stools and is receiving only breastmilk
  • If you are concerned that your child may be voluntarily withholding bowel movements
  • If the constipation continues despite treatment at home
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