Constipation in children is a common problem. When your child has constipation, it means the frequency of passing stools is less than usual, they have trouble passing a stool or they produce hard, dry stools.
There are three main stages where children are likely to experience constipation
As infants, when you first begin the switch from breastmilk or formula to solid foods
As toddlers, when toilet training starts
As older children, around the time they start going to school
Symptoms of constipation
Because of their age, children might not be able to understand what is going on with their bodies or communicate to you what their symptoms are. So your child might be constipated for quite some time before you realise that there is a problem.
Your child may be constipated if they experience the following symptoms, at the following stages of the lives:
Some formula fed and breastfed babies get constipated when they start getting introduced to solid foods. Symptoms of constipation in babies include:
- pellet-like bowel movements
- difficulty passing stools
- crying during bowel movements
- hard, dry stools
- less frequent bowel movements
Stool frequency can differ from baby to baby so use your baby’s usual bowel movements as a guide. If your baby usually does one bowel movement a day and it’s been a few days since their last one, they might have constipation.
The symptoms listed above might be similar in toddlers as well. You might however notice symptoms such as the following:
- unusually large stools
- stomach feels hard to the touch
- abdominal swelling
In addition to the above symptoms, older kids may experience stomach pain and have traces of liquid in their underwear from backed up stool in the rectum. Your older child may also have pain during bowel movements and avoid going to the bathroom.
Causes of constipation
The causes of constipation may be as a result of the following
- Withholding. Your child may resist going to the toilet because they’re too busy playing or they may not be comfortable using a public toilet. They might also have fears of a painful bowel movement
- Potty Training: feeling pressured or being regularly interrupted while potty (or toilet) training may later cause constipation problems
- Low dietary fibre. Fibre keeps the bowels moving and your child might not be eating enough fruits, vegetables and grains.
- Not enough fluids.
- Medications. Certain medicines, including pain medicines and antacids, can cause constipation in children
- Feeling worried or anxious about something – this can be about things such as moving house, the arrival of a new baby, or starting nursery or school
Constipation in children might be painful for them, which will cause them to not want to go to the toilet. This might create a cycle because the more they withhold, the more constipated they get.
There are three main ways, which usually go hand-in-hand, in which you can treat constipation in children:
A high fibre diet with plenty of fluids
This means including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, high fibre cereals, whole grain bread and a variety of beans and other legumes, like chickpeas and lentils. Foods containing probiotics, like yoghurt, can also help with good digestive health. Fluids should also not be forgotten as this helps flush all the high fibre food out of their system. Your child should be drinking lots of water throughout the day, along with some milk.
Regular toilet time
Try to establish a toilet routine so that your child goes to the toilet first thing in the morning and after every meal or snack. For younger children, by telling and not asking. Instead of suggesting, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” you can say “Time to go to the bathroom now.”
Trying a laxative
If the above things don’t seem to work, talk to your child’s doctor about using a mild, child-friendly stool softener or laxative. LACSON is South Africa’s leading liquid laxative (value leader) that is indicated for the management of constipation. LACSON is suitable for children under 1 year of age.
LACSON dosage and directions:
- Aged 6 to 12 years may be given an initial dose of 20 ml (4 medicine measures daily).
- Aged 1 to 5 years may be given initial dose of 10 ml (2 medicine measures) daily.
- Under 1 year may be given initial dose of 5 ml (1 medicine measure) daily.
If you think that your child may have constipation, please take them to the doctor as treatment may be dependent on your child’s age.
It is important to get help early because the longer your child is constipated, the more difficult it may be for them to get back to normal.