Smooth Sailing: Treating Your Child’s Constipation

By Tracy Wright

Constipation is a common health condition, and children are not immune. According to the BMJ journal, it is one of the top 10 common problems that pediatricians see in their office, and up to 8 percent of American children are chronically constipated.

Common signs of constipation are gas and bloating, less frequent bowel movements, and stool that is dry, hard and painful to pass. ere are many causes of constipation, and some may be psychological, physical or both. Changes in dietary routines or life occurrences (start of school, vacations, move) can cause constipation in children. A diet low in fiber or inadequate hydration may also be causes. Sometimes, especially around the time of potty training, children may also be “holding it in,” because of a fear of using the bathroom or resistance to use the potty.

Parents should consult their pediatrician when their child begins to feel uncomfortable with their gastrointestinal symptoms, said Stephanie Kirkconnell, pediatrician at Alliance Pediatrics.

“The goal is to have consistent, soft and comfortable bowel movements so as soon as a parent feels as if their child
is chronically in discomfort or pain, they should consult with their health care provider immediately,” Kirkconnell said.

If a child is chronically constipated, pediatricians may turn to laxatives as a solution. There are different types of laxatives, which include stool softeners, like Miralax, or stimulants like Ex-Lax or Dulcolax. Fiber supplements like Metamucil can also help to encourage bowel movements. Laxatives or supplements are generally not recommended for children under the age of 2.

Typically, stool softeners are the laxative of choice for pediatricians to prescribe for children with constipation, Kirkconnell said. According to the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPHGAN), stool softeners are not habit-forming and may be taken for a long time without worrisome side effects.

“Stool softeners help attract water to the stool so it can pass more easily,” Kirkconnell said. “If a child has chronic constipation, long-term use is generally considered safe, however, parents should always work with their child’s health care provider to decide what is right for them.”

Kirkconnell also recommends trying other tactics to fight constipation. Among these include: Change diet and boost hydration Children should have a diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, high-fiber cereals, whole grain breads and a variety of beans and other legumes, like chickpeas and lentils. Parents should also be sure that children are getting plenty of water and limit sugary drinks. Kirkconnell also advises reducing dairy products.

Encourage exercise and physical activity. Any type of physical movement can help a child’s system to get moving. A study in the journal, Gastroenterology, found that children with constipation may benefit from exercise, because it can help strengthen pelvic floor muscles which can help with bowel movements.

For younger children… who may fight “potty time,” make sure they are going and sitting on the toilet for at least 5 minutes within 30 minutes of a meal. Having a calendar of potty visits to help keep track of bowel movements helps. Having a step stool by the toilet helps for a child to put their feet on.

Parents can try over-the-counter probiotic and fiber supplements. Probiotics can help to improve digestion, immunity and brain health. In kids, probiotics can improve chronic constipation symptoms and can reduce abdominal pain.

* Always consult with your pediatrician prior to administering any medicine or remedies for constipation.