By Dr Evelyn Lewin

Constipation when a person tries to open their bowels, they strain and experience discomfort. Constipation is common in children. It is less common in babies, and rare in breastfed infants. There are many causes for constipation in children. They may be drinking too much milk, not drinking enough water or not being active enough. Medical conditions can also cause constipation. Children may also be embarrassed to pass a bowel motion. For that reason, they ‘hold on’. When they ‘hold on’ and don’t empty their bowels, this slowly distends the rectum. Over time, this means they won’t feel the urge to empty their bowels as often, worsening the cycle.


Symptoms of constipation include abdominal bloating, passing wind or abdominal discomfort or pain. The pain can be severe and tends to be ‘cramping’ in nature (coming and going in waves). Children are often less hungry, as their tummies feel ‘full’. Constipation can affect a child’s mood, making them grumpy or irritable. Children may also complain of pain when trying to pass a motion. Children who are constipated may still be having bowel actions. These stools are often hard and pellet-like. Babies who are constipated have dry, crumbly stools. Children who have been constipated for a long time may have ‘accidents’. This occurs because the rectum is so full of hard faeces, the soft, runny faeces overflows and ‘leaks’ out.


To prevent constipation, offer a healthy, varied diet including high-fibre foods (such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits). Drinking lots of water is important. Avoid giving your child too much cow’s milk. Exercise can help. Regular toileting helps children get into healthy bowel habits. After each meal, encourage your child to sit on the toilet for 5 minutes. Remind children to go to the toilet when they feel the urge, and not to ‘hold on’. Medications such as laxatives can help relieve constipation. If you think your child needs a laxative, or if she has recurrent constipation, see your doctor. Young babies with constipation also need to be seen by a doctor. See Dr Eng’s Nutrition Protocols for Constipation.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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