Advice from Dr. B
Traveling can make constipation worse in a child. There are several reasons why: unfamiliar restrooms, disrupted potty habits, dietary changes, decrease in exercise, changed schedules and the overall stress of traveling.
Unfamiliar restrooms and surroundings can make a child uncomfortable. This can lead to the child withholding poop, whether the child is potty trained or in diapers. Rest-stop restrooms, other public restrooms or even a relative's bathroom can be unfamiliar territory for a child and create fear. Be mindful that this can be a big challenge for any child, especially one who is already constipated.
Going to unfamiliar restrooms and places can also lead to different potty habits and cause constipation. Knowing your child’s potty habits—like "he usually goes to the potty an hour after he eats"—will help to manage constipation while traveling. You may notice if the child is holding poop in or avoiding the restroom.
To help your child go while traveling, try and schedule stops during your trip. If it’s too hard to figure out the stops beforehand, then allow for extra time to stop as needed. For potty-trained kids, make sure you don’t rush them to go. Talking to your child and keeping her calm while she sits on the toilet or potty will help her feel comfortable and, hopefully, help her poop or pee.
Another idea is to bring along any items that will help the child feel more at home like potty seats and toilet paper from home. You can even use disposable toilet seat liners if the child doesn’t like touching the toilet. If your child can talk, ask her to choose which items she would like to take, so she feels included in the decision-making process.
While on the road, our eating habits and food-prep routines change, making it harder to find or eat fiber-rich foods that help prevent constipation. With the excitement of traveling, the child may also seem to lose their regular appetite and be drawn to sweet treats and carbohydrate-rich foods found at rest stops, restaurants, shops, and even friends’ and relatives' homes. Seeing friends and family indulge in these foods may also encourage children to stray from their regular food choices. All of these factors can lead to making constipation worse in a child.
To avoid too many changes while traveling, pack your child's favorite snacks. Fiber-rich ones like berries, broccoli, and whole-grain snacks help to bulk up the stool and help it pass easier. Avoid carbohydrate-rich foods like breads, pastas and sugary cereals. It is also a good idea to pack water in their favorite sippy cups to help them have some sense of familiarity and routine. Avoid sugary carbonated sodas and fruit juices that your child may not be used to drinking.
Traveling by car, plane or train means we’re often sitting for hours. Though lack of exercise while traveling is not the strongest factor in constipation or the worsening of constipation, exercise does help keep the gut moving. Try to take walks during rest stops or layovers, and help the child safely move around. That can help to prevent constipation.
Let's face it, when parents are stressed and reacting to changed schedules, children become stressed as well. One way children show stress is through withholding poop. Changed schedules alone can lead to changed potty habits in all of us, but children are less likely to realize this and verbalize what they are feeling. Parents need to be mindful of this possible reason your kids may be constipated while traveling. Traveling across time zones can also interrupt potty habits and schedules in a way that causes confusion and stress for the children.
To help ease their stress, try remaining calm, reassuring, sympathetic and patient. This helps your child feel the same way. Letting them know that they are not doing anything wrong by being constipated can help as well. Although it can be extremely frustrating for the parent or caregiver and child, the adult must take the lead to provide a safe and nurturing space for a child who is constipated.
These are just some tips that can help. When used together, these tips can help parents and caregivers prevent or manage a child's constipation. Pedia-lax® products such as the chewable tablets or glycerin suppositories can be used as directed if the child is not relieved and needs help with occasional constipation. Be sure to pack them before you leave, just in case. As always, it is important to consult with your child’s doctor if constipation persists.
To learn more about child constipation, check out our website and also learn more about Pedia-Lax® products that can help relieve occasional constipation.