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14 Jul 2015

How to Relieve Constipation in Children and Babies

Bowel movements in children and babies can change in consistency and regularity quite frequently but it can still be worrying if you suspect your little one may be suffering from constipation. Thankfully, constipation in children and babies is not usually caused by a serious disorder. Where it’s always wise to seek medical advice if a problem is persistent, just in case there is an underling medical condition that requires attention, home care can often resolve minor constipation issues. 

Symptoms to look out for

While everyone’s bowel movements are different, constipation is usually classed as occurring if an individual of any age passes less than three bowel movements in a single week. If you are used to doing multiple nappy changes each day and suddenly become aware of a change in your toddler or child’s toilet routine, you may also notice some of these symptoms:
  • Crying or complaining that it is hard to pass waste
  • A painful or swollen abdomen
  • Hardened or ‘pellet’ like faeces.
  • A change in appetite – presenting as nausea or in some cases vomiting
  • Unwillingness/avoidance of going to the toilet
  • Unusually foul smelling faeces
Small children can sometimes express their discomfort and may discuss the symptoms they are experiencing but babies’ facial expressions don’t always accurately give away the problems they are experiencing. If you suspect your baby is suffering bowel problems you should seek advice from your GP or health visitor who may want to arrange an examination. 

It’s also worthwhile noting that constipation can sometimes be mistaken as an upset stomach or diarrhoea.
This is because when there is a blockage, liquid faeces can push around it making it look like the individual is suffering from diarrhoea. If you notice symptoms like these, you should speak to your child and keep track of their toilet visits to help with questions your GP is likely to ask.

It’s not uncommon for small children to become anxious about toilet visits if they have a change in routine or experience difficulty going to the loo at some point, so try to provide gentle reassurance to try and stop possible escalation of any constipation issues. 

Common causes of constipation

Some common causes of constipation in children and babies include:
  • Having too much milk
  • Consuming too much fibre
  • Suffering from anxiety or stress
  • Avoidance of the toilet caused by circumstances such as a change in location or routine
  • Change in diet with toddlers or children or babies switching from breastfeeding, between types of formula or swapping onto solids
  • Dehydration
  • Taking some over the counter medications

Constipation relief

It is often possible to relieve constipation without medical treatment by administering extra fluids – water to babies and perhaps prune juice to older babies, toddlers and children. Reassurance and positive reinforcement can sometimes encourage young children to stop avoiding the toilet. Try to encourage visits around 30 minutes after a meal when the body typically has a natural urge to clear the bowels. 

Should these home measures fail to provide relief, you may want to speak to a pharmacist or doctor who might be able to prescribe a child-friendly laxative or other medication based on your child’s specific circumstances. In cases of acute constipation your child may need to see a specialist nurse to undergo an enema or evacuation of their bowls and those experiencing persistent problems could be referred to a gastroenterologist.

To find out more about the condition, visit our Constipation Advice Centre page for additional information and useful tips on how to prevent it.