Constipation is difficulty passing stools. Constipation can have various causes. It is common in children.

Constipation in children is a widespread problem. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) states that 1 in 20 children’s doctor visits are due to constipation.

Symptoms may include difficulty passing stools and passing hard, lumpy, or dry stools less than twice a week. Constipation in children can happen for various reasons.

This article looks at symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, possible causes, and prevention of constipation in children and when to visit a pediatrician.

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Constipation affects up to 30% of children and adolescents worldwide.

Some possible symptoms associated with constipation in children may include the following:

  • passing less than two bowel movements weekly
  • hard, lumpy, or dry stools
  • difficulty and pain when passing stools
  • a feeling that not all stool has passed
  • a swollen abdomen or bloating
  • daytime or nighttime wetting
  • having stool in their underwear that resembles diarrhea
  • changing positions to delay a bowel movement, including clenching the buttocks, rocking back on their heels, or doing dance-like movements

Learn more about chronic constipation in children.

A person should take their child to a pediatrician if their constipation lasts longer than 2 weeks and home remedies do not help.

Additionally, a person should seek medical advice if a child has constipation and any of the following symptoms:

Learn more about pediatricians and pediatrics here.

A doctor can often diagnose constipation based on the child’s symptoms and medical history.

Your child’s doctor will generally perform a physical exam as part of the initial evaluation. This may involve a rectal exam, and checking the child’s blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate.

Doctors may also test stools for hidden blood, though this is more common in adult patients. This can help to rule out other diagnoses.

If the cause remains unclear, a doctor may order further tests, particularly if tests identify blood in the stool. Additional testing may include blood tests, urine tests, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, ultrasounds, and X-rays.

Learn more about physical examinations and what to expect here.

A person may be able to treat their child’s constipation at home. They can help encourage bowel movements by giving their child high fiber foods and plenty of fluids to drink.

Children may also be able to take laxatives to encourage bowel movements. However, a person should seek a doctor’s advice before giving a laxative to a child.

A 2019 review concludes that most children respond well to oral laxatives.

Learn about home remedies for constipation in babies.

Constipation frequently occurs when the stool passes slowly through the digestive tract. This causes the colon to absorb too much water, resulting in hard, dry stool. This may make it uncomfortable to have a bowel movement.

Constipation can occur due to a lack of fiber or dehydration. However, it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition such as:

Some children may hold in their stool, usually involuntarily, which can cause constipation. They may do this due to anxiety and stress surrounding going to the toilet.

A 2021 review suggests that toilet training before a child is ready can result in anxiety and stress for the child. This may cause them to exhibit stool-withholding behaviors.

Certain medications and dietary supplements may also cause constipation in children, such as anticonvulsants, iron supplements, and antacids.

Learn about some of the foods that can cause constipation in children.

The following may help prevent constipation in children:

  • ensuring a child has plenty to drink
  • giving children a variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables
  • encouraging physical activity
  • having a regular toilet routine and providing praise whether they pass stool or not
  • ensuring children can place their feet flat on the floor when using the toilet for good posture
  • opening up a conversation about toilet use and asking them if they feel anxious about using the toilet
  • being calm and reassuring to a child with constipation to prevent stress

Learn more about potty training here.

Constipation in children is widespread and accounts for many pediatrician visits in the US.

Symptoms of constipation include having a bowel movement less than twice a week, difficulty and pain when passing stools, and stools being hard, lumpy, or dry.

A person can try to treat this at home by providing their child with plenty of fluids, increasing their fiber intake, and trying laxative treatments with advice from a doctor.

If constipation continues after 2 weeks or happens with other symptoms such as bleeding, a person should take their child to a pediatrician.