Constipation in Kids

Young boy constipated in Austin, Texas.

Constipation can be distressing for children and parents alike, but understanding its causes and treatment options can provide relief. This article explores various aspects of childhood constipation, including types, causes, symptoms, and treatment methods. From dietary adjustments to promoting regular toilet habits, parents can take proactive steps to help their children find relief from constipation.

If you’re in Austin, Texas, or the surrounding area, consider reaching out to Pediatric Associates of Austin for expert guidance and support. Together, we can ensure your child receives the care they need for optimal digestive health and overall well-being. Schedule an appointment today to take the first step towards finding relief for your child.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is a common issue among children, causing discomfort and distress. It occurs when a child has difficulty passing bowel movements regularly. Normally, a bowel movement should be soft, easy to pass, and occur without strain. But when a child is constipated, their stools become hard and dry, making them tough to push out.

Types of Constipation in Children

In children, constipation can manifest in various ways, with different types often observed. Understanding these types can help parents identify and address their child’s bowel issues effectively.

  • Functional Constipation: This is the most common type and occurs when a child avoids passing stools due to fear, pain, or other reasons. Over time, stool accumulates in the colon, leading to discomfort and difficulty passing bowel movements.
  • Organic Constipation: Unlike functional constipation, organic constipation stems from a physical issue in the digestive system. It could be due to conditions like Hirschsprung’s disease, where nerves in the colon are missing, or an anatomical problem obstructing bowel movements.
  • Overflow Constipation: In this type, the colon becomes so packed with stool that liquid stool leaks around the blockage. This can lead to episodes of diarrhea mixed with constipation, making it harder to recognize.

Normal stools in children are soft, formed, and easy to pass. They may vary in color depending on diet but should generally be brown. Abnormal stools associated with constipation are typically hard, dry, and may appear in pellet-like or large, painful-to-pass masses. 

What Are Common Causes of Constipation in Children?

Constipation in children can be caused by various factors. Some common causes of constipation in children are listed below. 

  • Child’s Diet: A diet low in fiber is one of the primary culprits behind constipation in children. Fiber helps add bulk to stool, making it easier to pass. If your child’s diet lacks fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, they may experience constipation.
  • Toilet Training: Sometimes, children may hold in their bowel movements, especially during toilet training. This can lead to constipation as the stool stays in the colon for longer periods, becoming harder and more difficult to pass.
  • Child’s Age: Constipation can occur at any age, but it’s more common during certain stages of childhood. Infants who transition to solid foods or toddlers who are newly toilet trained may experience changes in their bowel habits, which can sometimes lead to constipation.
  • Solid Foods: When babies start eating solid foods, it can affect their bowel movements. Certain foods, like rice cereal or bananas, can be binding and contribute to constipation in some children. Introducing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent this.
  • Celiac Disease: In some cases, constipation in children could be a sign of an underlying condition like celiac disease. This is a digestive disorder triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Constipation can be one of the symptoms of celiac disease, along with other gastrointestinal issues.

What Are Some Common Symptoms of Constipation in Children?

Recognizing the symptoms of constipation in children is crucial for parents to provide timely help and relief to their little ones.

  • Painful Bowel Movements: One of the most common signs of constipation in children is having difficulty passing stools. If your child seems to be straining or appears uncomfortable during bowel movements, it could indicate constipation. They may cry or show signs of distress while trying to go to the bathroom.
  • Toilet Paper: If you notice streaks of blood or see small tears on the toilet paper, it could be a sign of constipation. Hard stools can sometimes cause tiny tears in the skin around the anus, leading to bleeding.
  • Infrequent Bowel Movements: While the frequency of bowel movements can vary from child to child, consistently having fewer than three bowel movements per week could be a sign of constipation. Pay attention to whether your child’s bowel habits change significantly or if they go for several days without passing stool.
  • Large, Hard Stools: Constipated children often pass stools that are larger than usual and hard in consistency. These stools may be painful to pass and can cause discomfort or even tears in the rectum.

If your child experiences these symptoms regularly for an extended period, it may indicate chronic constipation. Chronic constipation is a persistent issue that requires ongoing management to prevent discomfort and complications.

How is Constipation Treated in Kids?

Constipation in kids can often be managed effectively with simple measures at home. To treat constipation, parents can start by making changes to their child’s diet and lifestyle.

  • Increase Fiber Intake: Encourage your child to eat more fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber adds bulk to stool, making it easier to pass and promoting regular bowel movements.
  • Stay Hydrated: Ensure your child drinks plenty of water throughout the day. Hydration helps soften stool, making it easier to pass and reducing the likelihood of constipation.
  • Promote Physical Activity: Encourage your child to stay active. Physical activity can help stimulate bowel movements and improve overall digestive health.
  • Establish Regular Toilet Habits: Encourage your child to use the toilet at regular times, especially after meals. Creating a routine can help regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation.
  • Over-the-Counter Remedies: In some cases, your pediatrician may recommend over-the-counter remedies like stool softeners or laxatives to help treat constipation. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before giving any medication to your child.

By incorporating these strategies into your child’s daily routine, you can help treat constipation and promote regular bowel movements.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Child’s Constipation?

Parents should be alert if their child’s constipation persists for more than a few days despite home remedies or if they notice blood in the stool, chronic abdominal pain, or significant changes in bowel habits. 

Seek medical advice if symptoms don’t improve with home treatments or if there are additional concerns like weight loss or lethargy. It’s essential to address constipation promptly, as it could indicate an underlying issue. A pediatrician can provide guidance on appropriate treatment and help alleviate discomfort while promoting healthy bowel habits.

Finding Relief for Your Child

Constipation in children can be distressing, but with the right approach, it’s often manageable. Pediatric Associates of Austin is here to support you and your child’s healthcare needs. Schedule an appointment at our office in Austin, TX, today to ensure your child receives the care and attention they deserve!


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