Constipation in children is very common and treatable in most cases. A. John Yazdi, MD, with Pediatric Gastroenterology of Colorado Springs in Colorado Springs, Colorado, examines the child and talks to the family about lifestyle and diet issues that might cause this problem. He also looks for other warning signs that constipation might indicate a more severe condition like inflammatory bowel disease or an obstruction. Parents with children who have infrequent bowel movements and occasional constipation should call the office for an appointment.
Constipation is the medical term for not being able to have a bowel movement.
Kids’ bowel habits are different than adults. In fact, they change as a child ages. For example, an infant goes three or four times a day. By the time that same child becomes a toddler, the frequency drops to two or three times daily.
It varies by child, but withholding is a big problem at this age. Going to the bathroom is a big deal for kids, and sometimes a scary one, too. Often, it's merely a matter of not wanting to stop playing long enough to go. Watch for a child to clench their buttocks or to twist around in an attempt to “hold it.”
Sometimes potty training leads to constipation. Dr. Yazdi can help parents decide if it’s too soon to start training. A stubborn toddler might rebel if he or she is not ready for the potty yet and that causes withholding and constipation.
Not all constipation results from withholding, though. It can be a sign of a diet that doesn’t include enough fiber or a child who isn’t drinking fluids. Constipation can be a side effect of a cow’s milk allergy, too. That is something Dr. Yazdi will look for during the visit.
Nobody knows a child better than his or her family, so just look for changes in bowel habits. If a child usually goes twice a day and suddenly only goes once every other day, that’s a significant change.
Some common symptoms to watch for include:
Parents should also watch for signs like the child struggling to go or pain during a bowel movement.
Dr. Yazdi will likely use a diverse approach to managing constipation. Diet changes, for example, like adding fiber and increasing liquids help. Over-the-counter products are effective for most kids, too, like a fiber supplement and a laxative, if necessary.
The best treatment, though, is prevention. Dr. Yazdi will work with families to create a toilet routine that discourages withholding and promotes a lifetime of healthy bowel habits.