The scoop on poop: what to know when your kids can’t go

pottytrainingMost of us think that constipation is a simple problem that can be solved with a little bit of prune juice or a laxative. But, for some kids, pooping can become an everyday problem. Here’s how you can help a child who can’t poop or has pain while he or she is pooping.

What causes constipation?
Many kids experience constipation when their diets change or there is a lack of fiber in their diets resulting from too many candies, cookies, cakes and other low-fiber foods served during the holidays. Remember to keep high-fiber foods such as whole-wheat cereal, fruits, veggies and nuts in your child’s diet and encourage them to drink plenty of fluids during this time of year. Sometimes, kids may delay pooping because they are busy watching a great holiday movie or playing a video game. This can lead to constipation.

Why does my child avoid going to the bathroom?
If constipation problem is not dealt with quickly, kids start linking pooping with pain. Some kids can get into a habit of holding the poop inside to avoid pain. When kids do this time and time again, they can have a buildup of hard poop. Passing hard poop really hurts! Parents may notice their child tighten his or her bottom to hold the poop inside.  Some kids can have a buildup of poop as large as a small football, and have leakage of liquid poop into their underwear around this build up. Some kids may not feel the leakage. This can make toilet training difficult.

What can I do about it?
It is important to clear poop buildup and prevent it from happening again. Regular poop softeners and a balanced diet with enough fiber and fluids usually do the job.

Toilet training is a major milestone for toddlers and preschoolers. This can sometimes be a slow and challenging process in children who have experienced painful pooping. It is normal for parents to worry about the effect of delayed toilet training on their child, especially when they start school. Some parents also worry about sending their child for sleepovers or camps in case the child has a pooping accident outside the house. Most children get better with proper toilet training and treatment.

I’ve tried everything and the constipation hasn’t gone away. Why?
This rarely happens, but bowel motility problems can cause chronic constipation in children, which may not get better with medicines. These children need to be seen by a specialist.

Manu Sood, MD~ Manu Sood, MD, program director of the Motility and Functional Bowel Disorders Program, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Gastroenterology Center has a team of experts who treat children and teens with chronic pooping problems. Referrals to the constipation and motility clinic can be made through your family doctor.

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