Is your child struggling with bowel movement problems, like bathroom avoidance, pain strain, or bathroom accidents? If so, you’re not alone. These issues are common in younger and older children who struggle with childhood constipation and can be tough to deal with, but thankfully there are things you can do to help address the issue!
In this guide, we’re going to help you learn more about what functional constipation is, the potential causes behind your child’s constipation, and the different things you can do to help alleviate your child’s symptoms.
Understanding Constipation in Kids
Before we talk about how to address a child’s constipation issues, we first need to better understand it. What exactly is constipation, and what’s happening inside your child’s body if they struggle with childhood constipation?
Constipation refers to a state where a person has difficulty with their regular bowel movements, either having fewer bowel movements than average, no bowel movements, or bowel movements that are tough to pass.
Why do these issues happen? Constipation is a result of the colon/large intestine absorbing too much water out of the waste sitting in the digestive tract. When this water is absorbed, the stool becomes much drier in consistency, making it way more difficult to move through the digestive tract.
A number of different things can cause this. Food moving too slowly through the digestive tract, a child holding stool in for too long, and faecal impaction keeping stool trapped, are all some of the many reasons why stool can become trapped and dry in the colon. These issues can cause mild to severe constipation, depending on the specific case.
What Causes Childhood Constipation?
As we touched on above, poop/stool becoming trapped in the digestive tract is the cause of constipation. But what is the cause of this behaviour in kids?
There are a number of things that can trigger constipation in a young child or older children. The common triggers for paediatric constipation include:
- The start of toilet training
- Changes in regular routine/stressful events (eg: travelling, other illness, changes to the family dynamic, starting school)
- Changes to a child’s diet
- Scary/painful bowel movement that leads to bathroom avoidance
- Lack of interest in defecation
- Lack of fluid intake
- Lack of sensation of regular bathroom urges
- Medication side effects
- Other disorders/conditions related to the bowels (eg: inflammatory bowel disease complications, celiac disease, kidney disease, etc.)
Signs Your Child May Be Constipated
The common symptoms that indicate your child may be struggling with childhood constipation can include:
- Pain while passing bowel movements
- Hard stool
- Straining while defecating
- Faecal soiling (having poo accidents)
- Smaller and/or less frequent bowel movements
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal distention
- Bathroom avoidance
- Increased urination/increased urinary tract infections
Tips For Helping A Constipated Child
If you know for sure that your child is struggling with constipation issues, it’s time to take the steps to make it better. These are our top tips for helping constipation in kids at home:
Make Changes to Your Child’s Diet
Some simple changes in your child’s diet can do wonders to address constipation issues!
First, we’ll address the liquids. The most important thing to do here is increase your child’s fluid intake. Try to ensure your child is drinking 8-9 small glasses of water a day. This is especially important if your child drinks any caffeine-rich drinks like sodas, energy drinks, or tea. Caffeine can dehydrate the colon, so replace any caffeinated beverages with water.
Next, the food. Try to limit fast food or other unhealthy foods, as they can massively slow down the digestive tract. Instead, add more fruits and vegetables to your child’s diet, as well as fibre-rich foods to keep things moving. This includes foods like plums, prunes, raisins, bran/wheat cereals, oatmeal, wholemeal bread, etc.
Exercise can help to get the bowel moving. If your child is sedentary after eating, it can lead to slower digestion and impaction in the bowels.
Encourage your child to start standing after meals, keeping the intestines in a normal position as food passes, to see if this aids digestion. This can be as simple as a walk after meal times.
Try More Frequent Bathroom Visits
Scheduling set times during the day to try to pass a bowel movement can also be helpful, especially if your child is bathroom avoidant or struggles to recognise the urge to go.
Pick two times a day when your child can try to go to the toilet, for around 10 minutes. This dedicated time can help your child find a safe and comfortable time to try and go, getting more comfortable with toilet time.
Reduce Bathroom Fear
Some children who struggle with childhood constipation may find themselves associating the toilet with scary/fearful feelings. This can make constipation issues worse, with kids avoiding the urge to go out of fear.
If this is one of the things your child struggles with, taking steps to make the toilet a positive place can be helpful. Try keeping your child’s favourite toys/books in the toilet, to help them feel better as they go.
If your child is fearful of the height/size of the toilet, try using a footstool or rails around the toilet to give them the security and stability they need. This can do a lot to reduce toilet fears.
Still Need Help? Reach Out to Health Professionals at SPC!
If the above tips don’t help, your child may need the help of health professionals to address the issues, which is totally okay!
We have plenty of treatment options available to explore at Sydney Pelvic Clinic. For cases where a child is experiencing severe constipation, medical intervention may be needed.
At our clinic, we can do a full assessment to identify the nature of your child’s issues, then create a treatment plan catered to their specific needs. Whether they need disimpaction help, stool softener/laxative treatment, or abdominal massage, we’re ready to help get your child on the right track.
Want to learn more? Click here to book a consultation today!