Do You Think Your Child Could Be Constipated?

by Baylor Scott & White Staff on April 29, 2014

in Medical Information

constipationThere is great variation in children’s bowel habits, depending on their age and what they eat. Talking about bowel habits is certainly “potty talk,” but it’s good for parents to know the clues that may mean constipation.

Agnes Bayer, CPNP works in pediatric urology at the McLane Children’s Specialty Clinic in Temple.  She is passionate about her role in helping children overcome a variety of sensitive issues surrounding bathroom habits.

As a bladder coach and potty-training expert she says that constipation is often under-recognized in children. It is common due to bad habits, poor diet or side-effects from medications. Constipation can cause discomfort and trouble for your child; it even commonly leads to bladder incontinence.

Your Child’s Bowels, What Is Normal?

The anxiety can start when your child is a baby, counting endless dirty diapers. You may wonder if your baby is eating enough and shriek at the sight of some of his stools. However, the frequency of bowel movements is not as important as making sure that the stool is soft and easy to pass for the baby. If it looks like little pebbles, your baby may be constipated.

For breastfed babies it is common to see mustard colored stools, while bottle-fed babies often smell bad and have bulkier stools. The stools will change again when your baby is weaned to solid foods. Depending on what your child eats, the stools change in color and smell, becoming thicker, darker and smellier.

As your child grows, you may see more changes in frequency and consistency, but how do you know when your older child is constipated?

What’s Not Normal?

Since you are no longer looking at stools in diapers, you’ll have to be aware of your child’s bathroom habits. Constipation can simply mean that food is taking too long to pass through the body. If it takes too long more water leaves the waste and it becomes harder and harder. Then it can be painful when the child tries to go.

“It should only take 17-24 hours for food to completely digest, and for undigested food to be removed from the body as waste,” says Bayer.

If it seems that your child is going longer than this between bowel movements, consider these signs of constipation.

Bayer says there are a few ways to determine if your child is constipated:

  • Monitor the frequency of the bowel movement.
    • Does your child go to the bathroom everyday or at least every other day?
  • Determine if it’s easy for your child to pass the stool or if they have to push and strain.
    • Does it hurt when it comes out?
  • Sort out complaints ofgassiness, bloating or abdominal pain.
    • Sometimes these are a sign of constipation.
  • Look at the shape of the stool before flushing.
    • The harder the stool, the more difficult it is to pass.
  • Check to see if your child is soiling in the underwear.
    • If your child properly uses the bathroom, there shouldn’t be soiling in the underwear.
  • Your doctor can take a quick x-ray of the abdomen area to assess constipation.
    • This helps show gas pattern areas and places where there is a lot of stool.

How to Treat Constipation

“The first thing would be proper hydration,” says Bayer. “A child should drink an adequate amount of fluid to have the urine be the color of lemonade.”

In addition to water, Bayer suggests giving your child enough fiber. Fiber can help with bowel movements and can be found in a variety of foods. The recommended amount of fiber is your child’s age plus five in grams. So an 8-year-old child should have 13 grams of fiber daily.

“Both fiber and water are very important to give together,” says Bayer. “Fiber, by itself, can make constipation worse.”

If your child is suffering from constipation, you should talk to a pediatrician, who will be able to recommend certain foods or supplements that may help. One treatment the doctor may recommend is a powder to dissolve in water. The dosage of these synthetic powders can be tricky, so it’s best to get your doctor’s opinion on what will work best for your child.

If your child is still suffering, try having him drink warm clear liquid first thing in the morning, and try to sit on the toilet about 30 minutes after a meal. There are also exercises, massage techniques or other resources your doctor can recommend.

For more questions about constipation, visit our health library or our other post about tummy troubles or schedule an appointment with Bayer by calling 254-724-KIDS.

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