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Easing Constipation in Children

A Parent's Treatment Guide for Childhood Constipation

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Updated May 13, 2013

Constipation in children is common -- an estimated 12 to 30% of children will experience symptoms. Here is an example of how that statistic translates to real life: It was one of those classic moments in motherhood: trying to bake cookies, the baby screaming for a bottle and the 4-year-old in the bathroom yelling, “I’m having a cactus poopy!” As you can see, constipation in children can cause discomfort and anxiety for both the child and the parent. Since constipation can be a major contributor to the experience of tummy aches, it is important to take steps to help your child experience smooth, easy-to-pass stools.

1. Feed Them Foods with Fiber

Getting children to eat anything that doesn't have a fast food label can be a challenge. Do what you can to try to make sure they are eating foods with a good amount of fiber by looking for cereals and bread made with whole grains and offering plenty of fruits and vegetables. Popular kid choices, with a good reputation for softening stools, are:

  • Apricots
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Prunes

2. Encourage Them to Drink:

  • Lots of water
  • Prune juice

3. Draw a Picture

Even toddlers can be shown what their intestines look like and how stool needs to move along like cars on a train. You can illustrate how water can help to soften and lubricate the stool and how holding in the stool can cause the stool to become hard and painful to pass.

4. Grind Up Some Flaxseed

Sprinkle ground flaxseed on their cereal or in smoothies. Flaxseed adds bulk and smoothness to the stool.

5. Schedule Daily Bathroom Time

Pick a time each day for a regular bathroom visit. Due to the effect of the gastrocolic reflex, the highest probability of a successful bowel movement is right after a meal and, for most children, right after breakfast. Make it fun and relaxing: stow away some books and toys that are special to the bathroom.

Use Laxatives Wisely

Talk to your doctor about stool softeners or regular use of psyllium. Stimulant laxatives are not recommended for children. Enemas should be used only as a last resort and as recommended by your doctor.

Sources:

Galal, N., Chong, S., Williams, J. & Phillips, M. “Constipation in childhood: a multidisciplinary approach to management in the community.” Paediatric Nursing 2007 19:20-22.

Loening-Baucke, V. & Swidsinski, A. Constipation as Cause of Acute Abdominal Pain in Children Journal of Pediatrics 2007 151: 666-669.

Price, K. & Elliott, T. “Stimulant laxatives for constipation and soiling in children” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2001 3:CD002040.

Youssef, N. "Childhood and Adolescent Constipation: Review and Advances in Management" Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology 2007 10:401-411.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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