Your child may be constipated if one or more of the following are true:
For some children, it is normal to pass stools as far apart as every few days. Whether your child is constipated or not depends on how often he or she normally passes stools and how easy this is to do. If stools are soft and easy to pass, less frequent stools are not a problem. If they are hard and difficult to pass, constipation is likely. If your child is having trouble with constipation for more than 2 weeks, it is called chronic constipation.
Constipation is likely to happen when your child doesn't drink enough water, milk or other fluids, or if your child doesn't eat a healthy diet that includes enough fiber. Fiber is found in foods such as cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables. If your child eats a diet high in fat and refined sugars (candy and desserts), he or she is probably not getting enough fiber, which may result in constipation.
Constipation may also begin when you change your baby from breast milk or baby formula to whole cow's milk, and when you switch from baby food to solid food. Sometimes constipation happens after your child has been sick or has taken certain medicines. You should not be concerned if your child becomes constipated for a short period of time. Constipation is common in children and usually goes away on its own.
Young children who have chronic constipation often ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. Your child may not want to interrupt play, or may be afraid or embarrassed to ask a teacher or use a public restroom. When a child avoids bowel movements, stool builds up in the lower bowel. The stool becomes larger and harder. Passage of the stool can be painful and makes children want to avoid having a bowel movement even more.
There are many things you can do to help your child:
Take your child to see your family doctor if the constipation doesn't get better or if you think your child has chronic constipation. Constipation can sometimes be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
The pattern of your child's bowel movements may show that he or she has constipation. You can help the doctor by keeping a day-by-day list of your child's bowel movements. You should include:
It also is important to note unusual changes in your child's stools or behavior. Some things to watch for include:
The doctor also will do a physical exam. This may include an exam of your child's rectum. The doctor also may order an X-ray of your child's abdomen. If constipation is very severe, an enema may be necessary to physically remove the stool from your child's bowels. An enema is a procedure where liquid is injected into the rectum. The enema helps loosen the stool and can ease severe constipation.