Advice from Dr. B

Pediatrician's Perspective

How To Help Constipated Children

Parents often feel helpless in dealing with their child’s constipation. It sometimes seems like whatever one does to help the child, the pain of constipation is hard for the parent to watch. Here are some things parents and caregivers can do to help support a constipated child.

Signs of Constipation

One of the first things a parent or caregiver can do is to know and recognize the signs of constipation. Some are obvious, like crying while pooping or trying to poop, complaining of stomach aches and pains, or not passing stools for over 24-36 hours. However, other signs are not as simple to spot. Some of these are:

  • Hiding when having the urge to poop
  • Minimal bleeding in the rear-end due to little tears called anal fissures
  • Becoming clingy and crying a lot for what seems like no reason to the parent or caretaker
  • Becoming more impatient and cranky
  • Becoming combative and irritable

What can a parent or caregiver do when a child is showing one or more of these symptoms? Here are some immediate and preventive measures that can be taken to help the child.

When Constipation Needs Immediate Attention

If your child has the signs described above, has not had a normal bowel movement in 24-36 hours and does not have fever, you can try giving the child water and/or prune or pear juice. If the child still does not poop, Pedia-lax® products such as the chewable tablets or liquid stool softener can be used as directed. If the child’s symptoms persist or worsen within a 24-hour period, contact the child’s doctor.

Preventing Constipation from Happening Again

Once the constipation is relieved and the child goes back to pooping normally, parents and caregivers can take some easy steps to prevent it from happening again. These steps include creating healthy diet, exercise and toilet habits.

Healthy Diet, Healthy Gut

Diet plays a large role in gut health and ease of digestion. The average American child’s diet consists of the foods that can be constipating, such as:

  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese
  • Fruits such as bananas and apples/applesauce
  • Low-fiber cereals
  • Foods high in carbohydrates like pretzels, crackers, bread, rice and pasta.

Constipation can also result from not drinking enough water. Be sure your child drinks more water than milk and avoids drinks high in sugar content. Eating fruits and vegetables high in fiber will also help prevent constipation. Some examples of these types of fruits and veggies are watermelon, oranges, berries, broccoli, kale and lettuce to name a few.   

Keep It Moving

Everyone knows exercise keeps the body moving, but it also keeps all the systems within the body functioning well too. It helps pump blood, oxygen and nutrients to all the parts of the body. This is wonderful for the body to be in motion and keep things moving.  Unfortunately, when a child is constipated, they can be subconsciously afraid to move around a lot for fear of bringing on pain that comes when it’s hard to poop. This “always being on guard” feeling makes them tired. Instinctively, their bodies want to rest more and they may take more naps. This can make constipation worse Working in time for play and freely running around every day  can help keep the child’s gut—and whole body—in motion and healthy!

Encourage Healthy Potty Habits

After a child has an episode of constipation, the body and brain remember the pain. The child may be afraid to go to the potty even after the constipation is better. The parent or caregiver must be supportive, gentle and understanding to the child’s reaction to toileting. One tip is to find ways to reward the child for any attempts at going to the bathroom. Let them bring favorite toys or stuffed animals with them into the bathroom, read a favorite story during potty time, start a sticker reward system where the child gets to put a sticker on a chart each time they try to go potty (successful or not). Over time, the child will feel safe again and these habits can still be used as a regular potty routine is re-established.

These are just some tips to help a child with constipation. As always, it is important to consult with your child’s doctor when dealing with constipation or any medical condition.  

To learn more about child constipation, check out our blog  and also learn more about Pedia-Lax® products that can help relieve occasional constipation.

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