Constipation is a condition when stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract, causing swelling, stomach pain, and metabolic issues. This is a common problem seen in young children as they grow and learn healthy life habits.
Common causes for constipation in children may include early toilet training and changes in diet. Children with constipation usually struggle with infrequent bowel movements or hard and dry stools.
The good news is that constipation in children is usually temporary, and simple dietary changes and staying hydrated can resolve most cases.
Factors that could cause constipation in children can include:
- Withholding stool to avoid painful bowel movements
- Early toilet training, which may result in tantrums and the association of stress with bowel movements
- Lack of fiber-rich foods and fluids in their diet
- Stress, travel, or recent changes in routine
- Family history of bowel problems
Constipation is typically not a severe illness and can often be resolved by incorporating simple lifestyle changes. These may include dietary changes, meal scheduling, and encouraging regular physical activity.
Although constipation can happen to anyone, it is more likely to affect children with unhealthy habits, such as:
- Low physical activity
- Not eating enough fiber-rich foods
- Not drinking enough water or liquids
Mental health conditions, such as anxiety, and the medications used to manage their symptoms could also be underlying factors contributing to metabolism issues, including constipation.
Some signs that can help you recognize if your child is constipated may include:
- General discomfort or fussiness
- Stomach pain
- A small amount of blood that appears when wiping
- Less than three stools in a week
- Hard or pasty stools
- Poor appetite that improves after bowel movement
- Obvious attempts to hold a stool with crossed legs or clenched buttocks
There are two types of constipation:
- Organic constipation occurs when an underlying condition like celiac disease or thyroid problems causes metabolism issues.
- Functional constipation happens when children hold back bowel movements. Infectious diseases, such as stomach flu, can sometimes cause this reaction.
While constipation in children often resolves on its own, chronic constipation may indicate a more serious, underlying condition. Visit your Pediatrician if bowel movement difficulties persist for more than two weeks or if you notice fever, changes in appetite, abdominal swelling, or weight loss.
If left untreated, chronic constipation could also lead to severe complications, such as:
- Anal fissures: Hard stools can cause injuries to the skin and anus, leading to anal fissures.
- Rectal prolapse: Chronic constipation can weaken the muscles that support the rectum, causing the rectum to bulge out of the anus.
- Encopresis: When a child avoids having bowel movements due to pain, it can accumulate stool in the colon and leak out through the rectum.
Depending on the intensity of the symptoms, treatment for constipation may include the following options:
- Dietary Changes: Promoting a healthy, well-balanced diet with natural foods high in fiber with plenty of hydration.
- Supplements: When your child’s diet contributes to metabolism issues, adding fiber supplements can help reduce constipation. However, it is crucial that they drink plenty of water for these supplements to work optimally.
- Suppositories: If your child can’t swallow pills, stool-softening suppositories can help them improve their bowel movement activity.
- Laxative: The accumulation of stool in the colon leads to blockage, increasing the risk of serious complications. In such cases, laxatives can help provide relief and facilitate the emptying of bowels.
- Hospitalization: Although rare, children with severe cases of constipation may need to be hospitalized to administer a professional enema for emptying the bowels.
You can employ several strategies to prevent constipation in your child. This includes:
- Following a diet rich in fiber: Fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain cereals, and bread are excellent sources of fiber and help keep the bowels clear.
- Drinking plenty of fluids: Consuming water, juices, popsicles, and other fluids regularly throughout the day helps ensure proper hydration.
- Ensuring regular physical activity: Regularly playing sports helps stimulate proper bowel functioning.
- Implementing meal scheduling: Ensuring your child eats at scheduled times can help develop routine bowel habits.
- Establishing a potty routine: Get your child into a routine of sitting in the toilet after meals and before bed.
- Offering a supportive environment: Try rewarding your child’s efforts and avoid punishing them if they accidentally soil their underwear. You can prevent your child from associating potty training with stress by remaining calm and assertive.