General Questions About Constipation


What is constipation?

A division of the National Institutes of Health defines constipation as having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week. Stools are usually hard, dry, small in size and difficult to eliminate. Children with constipation usually either have very large hard stools or hard pellet-like stools. Bowel movements are infrequent and often painful.

The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines normal frequency of bowel movements for children. See table below.


What causes constipation?

Lots of things can cause constipation. Common causes include not getting enough fiber, fluids or insufficient exercise. In addition, with children, constipation is often caused by “holding it in” too long because they don’t want to stop playing to go to the bathroom. However, constipation can also result from a more serious medical condition. The first time your child experiences constipation, talk to your pediatrician for a complete diagnosis.


Is it normal?

Yes, completely. Constipation is a common problem for kids. Unfortunate, but true.


Should I panic?

Not at all. Again, constipation is completely normal.


When should I begin to worry?

If constipation lasts for more than seven days after treatment, the child has persistent bouts with constipation or is in acute pain, they should see their pediatrician immediately.


How do I know it is constipation and not something else?

While it’s perfectly normal for your child to experience occasional constipation, it’s not normal for it to be prolonged or ongoing. If constipation lasts for more than seven days after treatment, you need to see a doctor to rule out a more serious medical condition or set up a treatment approach for a chronic constipation condition.


How is constipation treated?

Parents can often successfully treat constipation with diet changes and over-the-counter medicine. They should, however, seek the counsel of a healthcare professional for children aged 2 and under and/or the first time their child suffers from constipation.


How do I prevent constipation?

There are several things you can do to help prevent constipation. Make sure your child eats a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. They also need to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of exercise. Most importantly, encourage them to use the bathroom when they need to. Let them play a little longer outside or give them a reward when they stop for a bathroom break. If potty training, make sure you have scheduled “potty time.”


What is soiling?

Soiling is what happens when liquid feces leak out around hard, compacted stool. It can happen once or several times a day and is often confused with diarrhea. There is nothing a child can do to withhold it and parents don’t often make the connection between what they think is diarrhea and constipation, making the right diagnosis difficult.

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