Constipation in Children

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Constipation is when your child has trouble having bowel movements, or if several days pass between bowel movements. While children do have normal, brief changes in their bowel habits, they may be constipated if they:

  • Have pain during bowel movements
  • Have stomach pains that are relieved after having a bowel movement
  • Pass hard, pebble-like stool
  • Have blood in or on the stool
  • Soil diapers or underwear between bowel movements

Constipation Causes

Constipation in children may be due to:

  • Fear of the bathroom or toilets
  • Toilet training problems in young children
  • Older children ignoring the urge to pass stool
  • Reduced stool from eating a low-fiber diet, not eating often enough or not drinking enough fluids
  • Transition from breast milk to formula or solid foods
  • Intolerance to cow's milk
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Side effects from certain medications
  • Pain from hemorrhoids

Examples of rare, but serious, causes of constipation in children include:

  • Hirschsprung's disease — a genetic condition that prevents the colon from working normally
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Problems with the spinal cord
  • Malformations of the anus and rectum

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

Do not use laxatives or other medications without talking to your child’s pediatrician. Most cases of constipation can be treated at home by:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Eating fiber
  • Exercise

If you think your infant is constipated, contact your child's pediatrician.

For older children, call the doctor if:

  • Constipation continues for more than a few weeks
  • Constipation occurs frequently
  • Stools are abnormally large or wide
  • There is blood in the stool or stools are dark black
  • Your child has significant straining with stools or abdominal pain and swelling
  • You suspect your child is holding bowel movements to prevent pain
  • Your child is soiling diapers or underwear between bowel movements
  • Your child is losing weight