Many children experience constipation during potty training, which may occur due to anxiety about using the potty. Providing support, comfort, praise, and routine to a child can help.

If a child feels anxious, stressed, or pressurized to use a potty, they may not want to use it. If a child holds in bowel movements, it may cause a buildup of stool which leads to constipation.

This article looks at the link between potty training and constipation, tips for potty training, and how to treat constipation.

a young child is sat on a pottyShare on Pinterest
hobo_018/Getty Images

If there is no underlying medical cause for constipation, doctors refer to it as functional constipation. This type of constipation is common in preschool children, particularly during potty training.

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), around 3-5% of visits to a pediatrician are due to constipation.

Can potty training cause constipation?

Potty training may result in constipation due to excessive pressure from caregivers, anxiety, or stress around using the potty.

This may lead to a child holding in stools, which can lead to stool building up in the colon. The colon absorbs excess water from the stool, making it more difficult to pass.

As stool continues to build up, the smooth muscles of the intestines stretch and are not as effective. This cycle causes constipation.

Over time, constipation may also lead to change in sensation, making children unaware of needing to make a bowel movement.

A child may hold in bowel movements if they become afraid or anxious about using the potty, think that a bowel movement will feel unpleasant or painful, or if potty training interrupts playtime.

Learn more

Learn more about potty training and constipation.

Dyschezia is a condition in which people have difficulty making bowel movements and can appear similar to constipation.

Dyschezia in children may occur due to a lack of muscle coordination in the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, and a child may cry and strain when making bowel movements.

These symptoms may indicate dyschezia if a child has daily, soft stools.

On the other hand, symptoms of constipation in children include:

  • less than two bowel movements in a week
  • hard, lumpy, or dry stools which are difficult to pass
  • making unusual movements or positions to avoid making a bowel movement
  • bloating or swollen abdomen

Learn more about dyschezia in children.

If a toddler is holding in poop while potty training, allow them to use their diaper.

This can help prevent constipation, which may lead to painful bowel movements and prolong potty training.

If a child has constipation, parents and caregivers can treat the constipation and pause potty training until the constipation has resolved.

Other tips which may help with potty training include:

  • providing good support for the feet
  • letting a child become used to the potty first by sitting on it with their clothes on
  • creating a routine for a child to use the potty at the same times each day, such as after meals and before sleeping
  • looking out for signs a child may need to use the potty
  • helping a child relax while using the potty by reading to them whilst they sit on it
  • being patient and upbeat and praising a child often throughout potty training
  • treating accidents as an everyday occurrence and keeping a change of clothes to hand

Avoid rushing or pressurizing potty training, as this may cause a child to feel anxious or stressed about using the potty and lead to constipation.

Learn more about starting potty training.

People can often resolve constipation in children by altering potty training methods or with home treatment. If this does not improve constipation, or if constipation lasts for longer than two weeks, people can contact a doctor.

People will need to see a doctor as soon as possible if a child has any of the following symptoms with constipation:

Learn more about constipation in children and when to see a doctor.

Tips for treating constipation in children include the following:

  • providing them with high fiber foods, such as prunes, berries, apples, ripe bananas, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
  • pausing potty training until constipation goes away
  • limiting foods high in fat and sugar, as well as low fiber and processed foods, such as ice cream, pizza, cheese, and meat
  • making sure a child is drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, clear soups, and fruit and vegetable juices, without added sugar
  • avoiding soft drinks, which may contain caffeine that can cause drying to the digestive system
  • ensuring a child gets daily exercise, which supports healthy digestion

Learn about medications and other ways to treat constipation in children.

Constipation can be a common issue in children who are potty training.

If a child is nervous or stressed about using the potty, or does not want to interrupt playtime, they may withhold bowel movements. This can lead to a buildup of stool and constipation.

Allowing plenty of time and a regular routine for potty training may help, as well as praising a child when using the potty.

If a child has constipation, people can stop potty training until the constipation goes away. Increasing fiber, fluids, and getting regular exercise may help treat constipation.

If constipation does not improve with home treatments or lasts for more than 2 weeks, people can contact a doctor.