Health tip young boyConstipation happens to all of us at some time or another. And it can be a frustrating and painful experience for kids and their caretakers.

Unpleasant as they can be, there are ways to get through episodes of constipation. Here are answers to some common questions about constipation, as well as tips for treating it.

What are the symptoms of constipation?

Going a day or two without a bowel movement is usually normal and not cause for alarm, but your child may be constipated if:

  • She hasn’t had a bowel movement in four days or more.
  • Her bowel movements are hard, dry or painful.
  • She feels the need to have a bowel movement but is unable to.

What causes constipation?

While constipation is rarely caused by a major medical issue, kids become constipated for all sorts of reasons. Your child may become constipated if he:

  • Hasn’t been eating enough high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Has been drinking or eating too many dairy products
  • Has been repeatedly waiting too long to go to the bathroom
  • Hasn’t been drinking enough nondairy fluids

Constipation can also have an emotional cause. For example, stressful transitions or changes in routines — such as starting a new school — can bring on constipation.

How can you treat constipation?

You can usually treat constipation at home with high-fiber foods and lots of fluids. Do not use any suppositories, laxatives or enemas without first consulting your child’s doctor or nurse practitioner.

You’ll also need to base your treatment on your child’s age.

If your child is younger than 4 months old, try:

  • 1 ounce of prune juice  in 1 ounce of water, one or two times a day

If your child is 4 months to 1 year, try:

  • High-fiber baby foods, such as cereals, fruits (especially prunes), vegetables, spinach and peas
  • Prune juice

If your child is 1 year or older, try:

  • Feeding him raw, unpeeled vegetables and fruits (peaches, apples and pears) at least three times a day
  • Increasing the bran in her diet by offering her graham crackers, bran cereal, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread
  • Decreasing the amount of dairy products you give him
  • Increasing the amount of water and juices she drinks
  • Having your child sit on the toilet for 10 minutes after meals, especially after breakfast, to encourage a regular bowel pattern

When should you call the doctor?

Most of the time, home treatment will help. If not, contact your pediatrician to develop a plan for your child.

Call your child’s doctor or nurse practitioner immediately if your child is in severe pain or has blood in his stool. You should also talk to your child’s doctor or nurse practitioner if:

  • Your child doesn’t have a bowel movement after five days.
  • He develops any tears in the rectal area that don’t heal.
  • She is soiling herself despite being toilet trained.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello, MD