Advice from Dr. B

Pediatrician's Perspective

Does Summer Spell Constipation for Your Child?

For most kids, summer plans include travel to a summer camp, family vacation or at least a sleepover with friends. But alongside summer fun is a new schedule, and while itineraries sometimes include a trip to the bathroom, some kids don't find a time when it's comfortable for them to go.

During summer, why does it matter when kids go? Well, when kids can't or won't use the bathroom, it's called "withholding," and the colon absorbs water from the stool, making it hard and dry. Intercepting this bad habit is important because continuing to resist the urge to go can cause the brain to begin to ignore the urge as well. This avoidance of going to the bathroom is one of the most common causes of constipation in children over 18 months of age – and it's a situation that typically worsens with changes to a routine during travel.

That's because travel, such as camps and sleepovers, leaves little wiggle room for private time, turning "when" into "won't." Scheduled bathroom trips at camps can mean groups waiting in line, and often kids will hold it in because they lack privacy and feel embarrassed. Many kids ages 6-11 are worried about having enough privacy when using public restrooms for "number 2," and that's not their only concern.

Cleanliness can also be an important factor. Nearly 20% of kids dislike using school bathrooms because they're dirty and an outdoor setting is less likely to have clean restrooms. This can further discourage kids from going.

When kids won't go, eventually they can't go, making them constipated. Luckily, not all aspects of summer contribute to constipation.

The great part about summer is that it keeps kids active, which helps prevent constipation. And the private time kids need to go can be found at camps and sleepovers. Remind your kids to drink plenty of water and to anticipate the need to go. They should take opportunities to try to go even if they don't immediately feel the urge.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer; keep checking for more helpful hints!

Belinda Basaca, MD
Pediatrician, New Health Pediatrics
Source: Fleet proprietary research, April 2008

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