What's the Best Way to Cure Constipation in a Child?

My daughter suffers from constipation. What's the best way to cure constipation in a child?

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

Constipation occurs when the muscles at the end of the large intestine tightens, keeping stool from getting through. That slower movement allows time for more water to be drawn off from the stool into the bloodstream, making the remaining stool harder. Since pushing out a hard, dry stool hurts little bottoms, your child may wind up trying to hold it in, which only worsens the problem. To top it off, the stretching of the bowel wall by stool and gas can further add to the pain of constipation.

The goals in treating constipation are to get things moving. For the breast-feeding child, adding 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of Karo syrup to a bottle of breast milk or formula once a day may be enough to treat it. For other children, simply breast-feeding more frequently may make the difference between rabbit pellets and more normal stools. Never give an infant additional water to treat constipation. The extra water can lead to electrolyte imbalances and seizures, especially in a baby under 3 months.

For toddlers and older children, the best natural poop unpluggers include: prunes, blueberries, cherries, raisins, apricots, plums, veggies with high fiber such as peas, beans and broccoli, and whole-grain cereals and breads. Aim to have her eat at least three to five servings of fruits/veggies and a cup of water per day. If she’s still hurting despite dietary changes, see your doctor about adding mineral oil or MiraLAX to get stools moving. Reminding kids to sit on the potty regularly can also help, along with regular rewards for going on the potty. When your child ignores the urge to make a bowel movement, this allows the stool to sit for longer periods and become drier and consequently harder to pass.

If these simple solutions are not working well, it is definitely worth seeing your pediatrician, who can fine-tune the solutions for your child.