When asked, parents are not always aware of their child’s bowel movements. Once a child starts to wipe her own bottom, the parents are less likely to know if constipation exists. Because diet and viral illnesses can cause loose stools, fluctuations in bowel movements will occur, and constipation may go unnoticed. On average, children should have a bowel movement every day. Anything less than this could be considered constipation.
Diet contributes to the development and avoidance of constipation. A diet of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and increased fluids is helpful in avoiding constipation. An improved diet can be very helpful in preventing recurrent constipation, but it is usually not enough to correct significant constipation.
Children who develop belly pain and constipation may undergo testing, x-rays, and procedures to see if anything is medically wrong. Further testing, including a colonoscopy (placing a scope within the colon to look for abnormalities) may be performed by a pediatric intestine specialist (gastroenterologist). If a child is unable to have a bowel movement he may require hospitalization in order to aggressively clean out the colon with enemas, suppositories, or medications.
Kids with constipation will need to use the restroom often, and they will need to relax and take their time. Many children also need an aggressive bowel program to keep their stools soft. Usually a mild laxative is required for several weeks or months. There are many excellent laxatives that, if used carefully, will give excellent results. These include milk of magnesia, mineral oil, Senokot, lactulose, and Miralax (glycolax). Diarrhea and weight loss are signs of excessive laxative use, and any of these symptoms should be brought to the attention of your child’s doctor.
- Dr. D. Preston Smith
Dr. Smith is board certified and he has authored or co-authored many articles, papers, chapters, and books in Urology and Pediatric Urology. His research has been presented throughout the world. Dr. Smith's dedication to helping children with urologic problems inspired him to establish PottyMD.