When Your Child Has Constipation

Man and boy washing strawberries in sink.

Constipation is a common problem in children. Your child has constipation if he or she has stools that are hard and dry, which often leads to straining or difficulty passing stool.

What causes constipation?

Constipation can be caused by:

  • Too little fiber in the diet

  • Too little liquid in the diet

  • Not enough exercise

  • Painful past bowel movements. This can lead to your child “holding” his or her stool.

  • Stress and anxiety issues. These can include changes in routine or problems at home or school.

  • Certain medicines

  • Physical problems. These can include abnormalities of the colon or rectum.

  • Recent illness or surgery. This could be from dehydration and medicines.

What are common symptoms of constipation?

  • Feeling the urge to pass stool, but not being able to

  • Cramping

  • Bloating and gas

  • Decreased appetite

  • Stool leakage

  • Nausea

How is constipation diagnosed?

The healthcare provider examines your child. You’ll be asked about your child’s symptoms, diet, health, and daily routine. The healthcare provider may also order some tests or X-rays to rule out other problems.

How is constipation treated?

The healthcare provider can talk to you about treatment options. Your child may need to:

  • Eat more fiber and drink more liquids. Fiber is found in most whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It adds bulk and absorbs water to soften stool. This helps stool pass through the colon more easily. Drinking water and moderate amounts of certain fruit juices, such as prune or apple juice, can also help soften stool.

  • Get more exercise. Exercise can help the colon work better and ease constipation.

  • Take stool softeners. The healthcare provider may suggest stool softeners for your child. Your child should take them until bowel movements become more regular and the diet is adjusted. Discuss with your child's healthcare provider exactly which medicines to give you child and for how long.

  • Do bowel retraining. The healthcare provider may tell you to have your child sit on the toilet for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times a day. The best time to do this is after a meal. This helps the child relearn the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement.

Call the healthcare provider if your child

  • Is vomiting repeatedly or has green or bloody vomit

  • Remains constipated for more than 2 weeks

  • Has blood mixed in the stool or has very dark or tarry stools

  • Repeatedly soils his or her underpants

  • Cries or complains about belly pain not relieved with the passage of gas