Constipation In Children: Causes, Symptoms, And Dietary Precautions

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Constipation can be defined as infrequent passage of stool. Painful bowel movements and stool retention can be symptoms of constipation even when stool frequency is greater than three times per week. Encopresis, or incontinence of stool, is common in children with chronic constipation. 

Constipation is very common in children with urinary tract infections, daytime wetting, and nighttime wetting. 

What Causes Constipation in Children?

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Constipation occurs when your child's stool moves through their colon too slowly, resulting in hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass. Several factors can contribute to constipation in children such as -

1. Dietary Habits:

Insufficient fiber and fluid intake can lead to constipation. Kids who don't eat enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains might be more prone to constipation.

2. Toilet Training:

Some children may withhold bowel movements during the toilet training process because they're anxious or not quite ready for the transition.

Vicious Cycle of Constipation in Children - NU Hospitals

3. Lack of Physical Activity:

The flip side of the advanced technological era is to live with fancy gadgets and media players like video games, iPad, etc. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to constipation. Encouraging your child to engage in regular physical activity can help keep things moving.

4. Medications:

Certain medications, such as some pain relievers and antacids, can lead to constipation as a side effect.

5. Medical Conditions:

In some cases, underlying medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or hypothyroidism can also cause constipation.

The Signs & Symptoms of Constipation:

Parents and caregivers should keep an eye out for these common symptoms:

a) Infrequent Bowel Movements:

In some cases, underlying medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or hypothyroidism can also cause constipation.

b) Hard Stools:

Stools that are hard, dry, and difficult to pass can indicate constipation.

c) Abdominal Pain:

Your child might complain of stomach cramps or pain, especially before or after attempting to have a bowel movement.

d) Soiling:

Sometimes, children with constipation may accidentally leak stool (encopresis) due to stool buildup in the rectum.

e) Fussiness or Irritability:

Constipation can be uncomfortable, leading to mood changes in children.

Treatment of constipation in children:

There are several treatments for constipation. It includes education, prevention of impaction, promotion of regular bowel habits, and toilet training in older children.

Constipation is not a life-threatening condition. However, several months to years of supportive intervention may be required for effective treatment.

Daily bowel movements are a mainstay in treating constipation. The goal to set for your child is a soft bowel movement every day.

  • You may help your child attain this goal by providing a daily stool time (ideally 15 to 20 minutes after eating to take advantage of the gastrocolic reflex).
  • Do not rush. Allow your child plenty of time in the bathroom, usually 5 -10 minutes.
  • Help your child keep a stool diary. When they have a bowel movement, make note of the consistency, soft or hard.

There are several dietary measures that can improve constipation. The most important measure is to improve the diet in terms of dietary fiber. A variety of foods with soluble and insoluble fiber must be routinely included in the diet. Adequate hydration is also another key factor in maintaining clear or light-yellow urine.

In today’s world of confusing and contracting inputs from the internet and social media, a qualified dietician’s help in charting out a compatible diet will aid in organizing routines in a more productive way.

Boy Feeling Constipation - NU Hospitals

Examples of foods that may worsen constipation include:

  • Dairy products, i.e., milk, cheese, ice cream
  • Rice or rice cereal
  • Pasta, white bread, potatoes

In many children, supplements to the diet may be prescribed to produce daily bowel movements. These include various laxatives. Dosages will be determined by your physician.


Management of constipation requires considerable patience and effort on both the child's and the parent's part. Providing support and encouragement during the treatment period is extremely important.

Multiple clinic visits may be required until the appropriate laxative dosage has been established, as dosage adjustments may be required. It is important to keep in mind that dietary factors alone will probably not alleviate chronic constipation if stool withholding and stool retention are a problem. If the symptoms reappear, is when the parents should see a urology doctor for medical help.

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