by Becky Frusher

Constipation is a common problem among children of all ages. The National Institutes of Health reports that nearly one out of every 20 pediatric doctor visits is because of constipation. More than likely, your child’s constipation will last only briefly and is not a cause for alarm. In other cases, it can slow your child’s progress with toilet training or it may indicate a more serious health problem. Either way, it’s uncomfortable for children and concerning for parents. If you think that your child might be constipated, follow our prevention tips and find out when to see a doctor.

Signs that your child may be constipated include:

  • Fewer than two bowel movements per week
  • Stools that are
    • Dry, hard or lumpy
    • Difficult or painful to pass

Keep in mind that some kids naturally have more frequent bowel movements and what’s normal for one child may be different for another. 

Not sure if your child needs to see a doctor? Consult-A-Nurse® offers free expert advice and physician referrals, 24/7.

Call Consult-A-Nurse® at (208) 497-6167

How constipation can affect toilet training

Constipation can slow a child’s progress with toilet training or cause a child who is potty-trained to regress and have bladder accidents. When the colon and rectum are full of stool, it can put pressure on the bladder. This can irritate the bladder and prevent it from emptying fully. It can also limit the amount of urine the bladder can hold. These issues can lead to accidents that children will be unable to stop or control. 

Tips to help prevent constipation

For kids aged one through 18, here are some ways to help prevent constipation:

Ensure proper fluid intake

  • Fluid intake should be approximately 8 ounces per year of age, so a three-year-old would need about 24 ounces of water and other liquids, such as naturally sweetened fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups
  • Kids aged 8 and up should drink about 64 ounces of fluids daily

Ensure proper fiber intake

  • Fiber intake should be the age of the child in years plus 5 grams, so a three-year-old would need about 8 grams of fiber daily
  • Kids 10 and up can follow the adult recommendations for dietary fiber
  • Good sources of fiber include whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds

Ensure proper potty posture

  • Relaxation is key to a successful bowel movement, so be sure your child is comfortable and properly supported
  • If your child’s feet don’t reach the floor, use a wide toilet stool so their feet don’t dangle over the toilet and they don’t need to use their arms to hold themselves up
  • Be aware that some children don’t want to interrupt their playtime to have a bowel movement, so be sure kids spend enough time on the toilet

Encourage daily physical activity

  • Exercise helps stimulate the nerves and muscles in the gut so that they work better
  • According to the CDC, children aged 3 through 5 need to be active throughout the day; children and adolescents aged 6 through 17 need to be active for 60 minutes every day

When to see a doctor for constipation

If your child has symptoms that last more than two weeks or have not been resolved by the diet and exercise recommendations above, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician.

Children should be taken to a doctor immediately with any of these more serious symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain that won’t go away
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bloody stool
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating

EIRMC has pediatric occupational therapists who specialize in addressing bladder and constipation issues in children. Ask your pediatrician for a referral to EIRMC pediatric therapies.