Constipation in children

Constipation is a common problem in children, particularly around the time of toilet training or after a painful bowel movement.

What causes constipation in children?

Constipation in children is more commonly associated with behavioural factors. In particular, it is usually related to holding on, which can develop due to:

  • Painful experiences going to the toilet
  • Being too busy playing to find time for the toilet
  • Change in toilet environment such as a new or undesirable toilet at school

Other causes include:

  • A lack of fibre or fluid in their diet
  • Small tears in the skin around the anus causing pain
  • An underlying medical cause

In babies, constipation is usually related to:

  • The strength or type of formula being used
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Solid foods that aren't appropriate for the baby’s age

Occasionally, constipation may be a symptom of another problem. It's important to consult your healthcare professional.

How do I know if my child is constipated?

Important signs to look out for are hard or dry stools as well as reduced frequency of bowel motions.

Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Reduced appetite
  • Irritable behaviour
  • Small tears in the skin around the anus (anal fissures)
  • Holding on behaviours such as crossing legs or refusing to use the toilet to avoid painful poos
  • Soiling underwear with runny poo, which can happen after having constipation for a prolonged time

How can I manage my child's constipation?

  • Establish a regular toilet routine and encourage your child to use the toilet at a similar time each - using a star chart reward system can help
  • When sitting on the toilet help them feel secure and supported by providing a footstool
  • Discourage holding on and ignoring the urge to go
  • Encourage a well-balanced diet high in fibre, including fruits, vegetables and whole-grain bread and less processed cereals to add bulk to their stool and help stay regular
  • Drink plenty of water, especially if dehydration is contributing to constipation

It's important to discuss with your doctor if your child continues to be constipated or if you are making changes to their diet. If your baby is constipated, consult your doctor for advice.

Which constipation treatments can help?

If lifestyle changes don't work well, short-term use of a laxative may be required with the goal of restoring a normal bowel habit.

Before seeking treatment, it is a good idea to discuss with your doctor or pharmacist first on how best to manage your child's constipation.

Some constipation treatments are specially designed for children and infants. For example, Coloxyl Oral Drops is a gentle stool softener formulated for the relief of constipation in children aged up to 3 years. Read more