Constipation in children is literally a pain in the behind. Unlike when us adults get constipated, kids often don’t realise what’s happening. They react to the pain and discomfort by holding onto their poos even more. This creates a really nasty cycle where kids hold onto the poo because it causes them pain, which creates more hard poo which causes pain and around it goes.
Prevention is far better than cure, but constipation in children can be managed successfully. Today we’ll walk you through some of the best ways you can help your child with this unfortunate condition.
What Does Constipation in Children Look Like?
There are many causes for constipation in kids. These include not drinking enough water, starting solids, not eating enough fibre or getting enough exercise. Holding on and avoiding doing a poo or not passing the whole poo into the toilet can also lead to constipation. This can look like:
- Hard poo
- Pebble like poo
- Pain and crying when pooing
- Liquid poo which leaks out between harder poo
- Soiling in undies
One way of identifying the presence of constipation is to use the Bristol stool chart. This is a medical tool to which you can compare your child’s poo to one of seven different poo categories. The aim is to have poo looking like a smooth sausage or snake.
While constipation can be treated successfully for many kids, there are some who suffer from severe effects. These can include having no anal feeling, no awareness of the need to poo, daily soiling in undies and often this continues for years. One associated condition is obstructive constipation, caused by the prolonged presence of impacted poos. It results in anal nerve damage and it’s common for these children to have soiling on a daily basis in underwear well after the age when potty training usually occurs.
A Parent’s Guide to Managing Constipation in Children
If your child seems constipated (straining to poo, hard poo or even not enough poo), the first step is to visit your GP. They will be able to confirm it is constipation and advise you on specific ways of treating it. This could involve prescribed laxatives or even fecal disimpaction if required.
As a parent though, there are many things you can do to help soften their poos and keep constipation at bay in the future, including:
- Encourage them to drink plenty of water
- Involve them in lots of physical activities
- Increase eating of fibre rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Regular trips to the toilet, so not holding the poo in
- Teaching your child to listen to their body, and ‘let it go!’
As a parent, you are able to request support in managing your child’s constipation through the local community nurse, incontinence nurse or Plunket nurse. Depending on the severity, a referral to a pediatrician may be required, especially in the case of obstructive constipation. For further information about constipation in children and how it can slow toilet training down, we suggest reading our article When Potty Training Doesn’t Work.