Constipation in toddlers and young children is common, and not always a major cause for concern. It refers to a child having very hard stools and passing fewer stools than usual.

While there is no minimum number of stools to serve as a reference guide, most experts define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. This may differ from one child to another, so it’s best to compare it with the child’s bowel pattern under regular circumstances.

Keep reading to learn more about toddler constipation, including the various causes, symptoms, and some treatment methods.

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Unlike most adults, toddlers experience constipation for many reasons. These could be biological, physical, or emotional. Some of them are set out below.

Potty training

This is one of the most common reasons for constipation in toddlers. The transition from diapers to potty training requires them to pay attention to their body signals and act on them reasonably quickly. This process usually takes time and can be difficult for both parents and children. So children often hold in their stool for fear or stress of “doing it wrong,” which leads to constipation.

Improper diet

The body needs adequate fiber and fluid to soften the stool to pass through the digestive tract. Toddlers who do not eat fruit or vegetables in their diet or do not drink enough water may experience constipation. Even high fat foods such as fast food and soft drinks can cause constipation. The good news is a change in diet can quickly improve this situation.

Lack of exercise

Children who prefer sedentary hobbies like watching TV or playing “seated” games (board games, puzzles, video games) instead of being active outdoors may be at higher risk of constipation. Although there is not enough evidence to prove this, some health experts believe that exercising and being active helps move digested food through the intestines and makes the stool passing process easier.

Personal fears

Many children feel embarrassed or afraid to use the bathroom in places like the nursery or kindergarten. They may also be worried about the pain of passing stool, which gets harder and more painful as constipation increases.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), some children may hold in their stool because they do not want to interrupt playtime.

Existing health conditions

Certain health issues and diseases increase the likelihood of constipation.

These include:


Certain medicines and supplements may also increase the risk of constipation in children, such as:

Symptoms vary from one child to another. However, it helps to look out for some of the common signs of constipation. These include:

  • stool that is hard and/or dry
  • physical pain while using the potty
  • swollen abdomen or bloating
  • passing stool in underwear
  • stool that appears large
  • stool that resembles small pellets
  • straining to pass stool
  • bleeding (from straining to pass stool)

Keep in mind that these symptoms may present on their own or in combination, depending on diet and other factors. Tracking symptoms makes it easier to report them to the doctor.

A simple change in diet is often all it takes to treat constipation. Some changes to try at home include:

  • increasing fiber content, through foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. For specific food examples, click here.
  • increasing fluid intake, through water, natural fruit and vegetable juices, and clear soups
  • avoiding or reducing consumption of fast food or processed food

Behavioral changes that can reduce constipation can include:

  • taking a break from potty training until constipation stops
  • introducing a reward system when the child uses the bathroom regularly
  • reducing distractions, such as unfamiliar people and situations, when the child is on the potty
  • using warm baths to soothe painful areas

Learn more about remedies for constipation here.

Short-term constipation is easier to treat and sometimes resolves on its own, but prolonged constipation can increase the risk of complications. These include:

At this stage, home remedies may not be effective enough to relieve constipation and its complications. It is best to consult a doctor to treat the condition as soon as possible.

Experts recommend seeing a doctor if symptoms of constipation continue for 2 weeks, despite trying home remedies and diet changes.

Although constipation is not really a serious condition, it becomes a medical emergency when there is:

  • blood in the stool
  • bloating around the abdomen
  • reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • weight loss
  • vomiting
  • constant abdominal pain

A doctor will examine the child and ask questions about their overall health and medical history. They may suggest an imaging test to better understand the extent of constipation. Treatment will depend on the child’s age and symptoms.

Doctors may advise an over-the-counter laxative or mineral oil to improve bowel movement and relieve constipation. However, it is important not to buy these without a doctor’s advice.

A balanced diet and supportive environment play a big role in preventing constipation. Children often get constipated when they fear potty training or do not get adequate fiber and fluids in their diet.

Here are some helpful tips to prevent constipation:

  • Ensure plenty of liquids at regular intervals. Click here for drink recommendations for babies and toddlers.
  • Include mashed fruits and vegetables in their diet.
  • Develop a routine for using the bathroom. This can be first thing in the morning, after meals, and before bed.
  • Encourage the child with positive words when they just sit on the potty as well as when they use it.
  • Promote physical activity during the day to support digestion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend different durations of activity depending on a child’s age.
  • Avoid or reduce consumption of fast and processed foods.
  • Make sure the child is ready to potty train, which is generally between the ages of 1 and 3 years.

Constipation in toddlers and young children is common and easily treatable in most cases.

Home remedies and changes to diet usually help relieve symptoms. A balanced diet can help to prevent constipation and its complications.

If constipation continues for 2 weeks or longer, it is best to visit a doctor to prevent complications.