Many parents worry about the health of their children and, more specifically, their bowel movements. Children differ widely on the frequency of their bowel movements, so parents should focus more on the consistency, as well as looking out for any changes. If your child’s stools become harder and less frequent, that may be a sign of constipation.
Symptoms of constipation in children can be a little more difficult to pinpoint, as children are not always the most forthcoming about discomfort, especially if your child is a baby or toddler. If you notice your child becoming more irritable, have a decrease in appetite, or seem restless this could be a sign of constipation. Older children may complain about nausea or abdominal pain, which are both other symptoms of constipation. Stools that seems abnormally large and hard, or hard and pellet-like are also signs of constipation. Infants and toddlers that appear to be straining and have a red face when using the bathroom are likely having difficulty passing their bowel movement, which is a cause for concern.
Causes of constipation vary widely as well. Children might be withholding, which means they could be afraid of using the bathroom, or they do not want to take a break from playtime. Fears of using the bathroom are more common than parents may realize. If your child previously had a bad or painful experience using the bathroom, it is likely that they will try to avoid having that experience again. Children also respond to stress in negative ways, such as constipation, so if your routine has recently changed this could be a cause. This could include moving, a divorce, a new sibling, or starting a new school year. New medications or food allergies can also cause constipation, especially dairy allergies or intolerances. Be sure your child is getting enough fiber, because not enough fiber may be another cause of constipation.
Treating constipation is easiest if you are able to find the root cause of the constipation. If it is that your child is not getting enough fiber, add more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables to their diets, or consider adding a fiber supplement. Be sure they are also getting plenty of liquids, both water and others such as juice. If you are still in the toilet training stages, developing a bathroom time routine is considered helpful. Children may not yet understand that they are supposed to be emptying their bowels regularly. Make it a positive experience and be supportive. If your child has a more severe case of constipation your doctor may recommend a laxative or enema. Never jump straight to this method of treatment without first consulting your child’s doctor.
Constipation can eventually become a serious issue, so do not ever take it lightly. Keep communication about using the bathroom open with your child and it will be easier to monitor. As always, a healthy diet, plenty of water, and sufficient amounts of exercise will all help in preventing constipation, as well as other problems.