Constipation: Just the sound of the word is enough to make most of us uncomfortable. But, did you know that most children experience this problem at some point and many struggle with it for years? Surprised? It isn’t the kind of thing most people talk about openly.
What is it? When a child is constipated they are unable to frequently or easily pass stool. Stool often comes out in hard balls or wide “toilet cloggers.” There may be pain or bleeding, or it may just take a long time to come out. Most people with constipation do not stool everyday but some still do. Moving your bowels should not be painful, require a lot of effort, or result in bleeding or pain afterward. Constipation can affect anyone at any time.
What causes it? Constipation occurs when stool stays in the intestine too long, becoming dry, hard, and large. Trying to get your children to drink enough water and eat whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other high fiber foods is hard enough; however, many children fight the urge to pass stools and hold it in. Some children are afraid to use the bathrooms at school, some are so active and busy they just can’t be bothered to stop and sit. The list of contributing factors is long.
Is it serious? Constipation often resolves on its own in a few days. For some, it can be a more serious problem leading to painful stools, mild bleeding, abdominal pain, and embarrassment. If constipation is not recognized, or not treated, it can eventually lead to stretching of the colon and leakage of stool, also known as encopresis. Constipation from birth/infancy or in children with chronic disease is also a special concern and should be discussed with a physician.
What to do next?
1) Encourage your family to eat a healthy diet full of fruits veggies and other fiber-containing foods.
2) Provide plenty of water for your child to drink.
3) Encourage active play, sports, and other forms of exercise every day.
4) Support your child’s natural urges by having them sit on the toilet after waking up or after meals.
5) Do not encourage your children to “hold it,” rather, help them find a restroom quickly.
6) Discuss the situation with your physician. There are several simple and safe medications available over the counter which can help get your busy kid, or picky eater back on the right track. Several are even safe for babies.
What not to do? Do not give enemas or daily medication without talking to your doctor. Do not give anything other than formula or breast milk to infants without talking to a doctor.
Hang in there! Anger, frustration and other negative attitudes seen by your child may make the situation worse. This is not a problem that your child wants to have either. Longstanding problems can’t be fixed in the day. For more questions, call the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line at 314.454.KIDS, or 800-678-KIDS.