Childhood constipation: cause, symptoms, prevention, relief options 

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Occasional Constipation in children can appear similar to constipation in adults in many ways, but there are important differences. 

Constipation involves pooping less than normal – whatever “normal” looks like for your child – and producing painful poops that are hard, dry, and tricky to pass.1A 

Here’s everything you need to know about constipation in children.

Signs & symptoms of constipation in children

As they grow, kids will have differing and unique ways of showing or explaining their difficulties when it comes to pooping.3A  

It’s important to keep an eye out for indications they are finding pooping more difficult than usual.1B,

Pain

Constipation in children can be painful due to large, hard poo trapped in their rectum.2C However, children have different ways of showing pain, and some children have higher pain thresholds than others.4A Think back to how your kid has responded to pain in the past, and look for those same signs.4C

Soiling

While tough, large, lumpy poops are a trademark of constipation, constipation in children can lead to leaks of brown liquid or ‘skidmarks’ in their underwear.3B A buildup of poop in their rectum may be the cause of these leaks.2D

Withholding stool

A primary difference between constipation in children and adults is that your kid might be choosing to hold onto poo for reasons we will explore later.2

Blood in stools

Constipation in children generally leads to big, solid poops that can damage the skin around the anus when it finally comes to pass.5B This can lead to a little bleeding in the area.5C

Other urinary symptoms

A kid’s inability to control their pee may have something to do with their constipation.7A The bowel and the bladder sit in the same area of their body, and the same nerves control them.7B

Normal stool patterns at different stages of childhood

With constipation in kids, you can generally expect them to poop these amounts daily:8A 

Newborns: 4 times 

  • Breastfed children up to 3 months: 3 times 
  • Formula-fed children: 2–3 times 
  • Children aged 6 months–1year: 2 times  
  • 1–3 years: 1 or 2 times 
  • 4+ : One a day

Types of constipation in children

There are several types of constipation in children, including:

Idiopathic constipation 

This type of constipation in children means that there’s no known cause for your child’s pooping difficulties.9A That said, idiopathic constipation is often pretty mild, and will sort itself out with dietary changes and an increase in exercise.9B Please speak to your healthcare professional for additional information. 

However, idiopathic constipation can become serious if it’s ongoing, with the potential need for laxatives, medications, enemas, or surgery in extreme cases.9C

Constipation due to an underlying condition

Less commonly, your child might have a nutritional disorder or disease that means their digestive system can’t process food as it should. These might include:6C 

How does the digestion system work? 

  • celiac disease 
  • conditions that affect hormones, such as hypothyroidism 
  • conditions that affect their metabolism, such as diabetes 
  • brain and spine disorder, like spina bifida 
  • brain and spinal cord injuries 
  • Hisrchsprung disease 

If constipation doesn’t improve after a few days, or after making changes to your child’s diet or exercise regimen, please contact a doctor.

Types of constipation in children

There are several types of constipation in children, including:

Idiopathic constipation 

This type of constipation in children means that there’s no known cause for your child’s pooping difficulties.9A That said, idiopathic constipation is often pretty mild, and will sort itself out with dietary changes and an increase in exercise.9B Please speak to your healthcare professional for additional information. 

However, idiopathic constipation can become serious if it’s ongoing, with the potential need for laxatives, medications, enemas, or surgery in extreme cases.9C

Constipation due to an underlying condition

Less commonly, your child might have a nutritional disorder or disease that means their digestive system can’t process food as it should. These might include:6C 

How does the digestion system work? 

  • celiac disease 
  • conditions that affect hormones, such as hypothyroidism 
  • conditions that affect their metabolism, such as diabetes 
  • brain and spine disorder, like spina bifida 
  • brain and spinal cord injuries 
  • Hisrchsprung disease 

If constipation doesn’t improve after a few days, or after making changes to your child’s diet or exercise regimen, please contact a doctor.

What causes constipation in children?

A range of child constipation causes could be the source of their misery, and most of these are not serious, and easily resolved with simple lifestyle changes. 

These causes include: 

Diet:3C Let’s face it, kids will be kids. And with that comes the love of junk food and candy. If your kid is constipated, they may be overdoing the candy, junk food, and treats. A child’s diet will change as they grow. As they eat different foods, their body may respond in different ways. 

Exercise:3D Spending all day playing video games might mean they’re not getting the physical exercise they need to keep their digestive system moving as well. 

Emotional problems:3E Constipation in children can have psychological causes. It’s hard being a child, and the outside world can be a scary place. As a result of this, kids might hold in their poops, for example, to avoid using public bathrooms. Potty training is also a tough adjustment for many kids. And just as stress can trigger constipation in many adults, the pressures of school, friendships, and family matters can lead to the same in kids.1D 

They’re busy:3G Children may be holding in poop simply because they don’t want to stop doing whatever fun thing they are doing. They may also just forget to poop, which can lead to an unexpected buildup as well.


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