Let’s face it, nobody really likes to talk about constipation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop it from occurring. In fact, constipation is one of the most common conditions kids face. Constipation is most common in kids ages 2-4 (during toilet training) and happens more often with boys than girls.
Is it constipation?
Since each child is different, it can be tough to tell what is normal. Breastfed infants may only poop once a week, and that’s perfectly normal. During the first month of life, pooping less than once a day might mean your newborn isn’t eating enough, but after that, breastfed infants may go several days or even a week between bowel movements, using every drop they eat to make more baby, not more poop. Other infants, such as those who are eating formula, may just have a slower (but completely normal) gut, so they don’t go very often.
For toddlers and older children, it’s generally considered constipation when they have fewer than three bowel movements per week or go more than three days between pooping. Your child may also be constipated if their poop is large, hard and/or painful to pass.
What causes constipation?
Constipation can have a variety of causes, with the most common causes in kids being excessive diary intake (especially milk and cheese), recent illness and/or a change in routine. Kids can also become constipated if they resist the urge to poop. This sometime happens during potty training if they have had a previous painful stooling episode. They may be scared to poop again. In older kids, they may resist the urge to poop because they do not want to use the school bathroom, for example.
How to help your child
Dairy intake should, in the case of milk, be limited to no more than 16 ounces a day, while cheese should be totally avoided for one month. Deep-fried foods, candy (including chocolate), sugarcoated cereals, food made from white sugar, white cake and white bread also need to go. Instead, focus on high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables while having your child also drink more fluids, especially water.
After each meal, have your child sit on the toilet for five minutes. If their feet do not reach the floor, give them a step stool to make them more comfortable. This will make it easier for your child to push.
Do not rush potty training. No matter how frustrated you or your child get, keep things calm and pleasant. Praise them when they cooperate and certainly don’t punish or threaten punishment if they can’t poop.
Sometimes a simple change in diet or exercise will do the trick. Buy some prune juice and see what happens. That always worked for my son.
But for kids who have a bigger problem and are prescribed medication, it’s important to follow the directions fully. Many times, I’ve seen parents stop the medicine too soon, landing the family into a vicious cycle of recurrent constipation. Sometimes the child may need to be on a medication, like Miralax, for a couple of months. During this time it is important to identify and correct the underlying cause of the constipation.
The good news
The good news is that it’s likely that any constipation your child deals with will be temporary and can be fixed without too much trouble. It may just take some time.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including an office in Mount Pleasant. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Amanda Kotowski, APNP.