There are many reasons why constipation can happen, including diet, medications, activity, diseases and disorders. It can sometimes occur in young children, making it difficult to distinguish from colic. Children can also suffer from intentional stool retention, which is constipation due to stress when they’re not ready for toilet training.
An unbalanced diet is a key cause of constipation. Excessive intake of soft drinks, fatty foods, carbohydrates, or even protein can cause your child to become ‘backed up’. Insufficient intake of drinking water, fruits, and vegetables will also affect digestion.
Formula milk can firm up feces more than breast milk, making it easier to get ‘stuck’. Cow milk protein and lactose found in some formulas can also be constipating for some children, so soy alternatives might help.
Taking some medication – Antipyretics, analgesics, cough medicine, diarrhea medicine could be a cause of dry stools and difficult bowel movements. Prebiotics, while often effective for certain forms of constipation, might actually worsen symptoms for others. Even vitamin supplement products containing calcium and iron can be a contributory factor.
Anal fissure – Difficult and painful bowel movements
Inactivity – That causes inactive peristalsis
Emotional disorders – Being in a stressful home or family atmosphere, with divorced parents, etc.
Diseases – Development of disorders related to the colon, rectum, nervous system, blood, etc.
Some children under the age of 5 have problems controlling their fecal excretion reflux, or have a fear of sitting on the toilet. This causes difficult bowel movements, which can lead to them intentionally holding back their stool, causing it to build up in their body. Such a habit can cause constipation. Keep this in mind and observe your child’s behavior.
Your child refuses to go to the toilet
This causes anal muscle spasms and squeezed buttock muscles
As a result, feces are pushed up to the rectum valve
In turn, this causes constipation in your child
Leading to colon dilation and decreased rectal sensitivity
This results in prolonged fecal cumulation, contributing to constipation and other digestive problems
Constipation is generally difficult to define, as there are no clear indications of what is ‘normal’ in terms of the frequency of bowel movements, and symptoms may vary from child to child. Here are some signs if you’re concerned that your child could be suffering from constipation.
Difficult and infrequent bowel movements
Refusal to go to the toilet
Underwear or diaper is sometimes unknowingly soiled
Experiences anal pain, has uncontrolled bowel movements or blood in stool
Stool looks solid, lumpy, or generally abnormal
Refusing to eat, especially when presented with their favorite food or formula milk
Not all constipation incidents need medical attention. Before you rush to your medical practitioner, you may want to try these tips at home to ease the situation.
Change Your Formula
If your child is formula-fed, try a different formula. Research the ingredients found in the formula milk to understand its effects. Formula milk that is made with minimal processing (mild heat treatment) will be easier to digest, compared to heavily processed ones.
Make your child feel more comfortable with a tummy massage. Use warm hands with gentle pressure and motion
Eating apples, pears and prunes may help make bowel movements smoother
Make sure your child is drinking enough water throughout the day, not just during feeding times. Dehydration is a common cause for constipation and drinking plenty of water can often ease the symptoms.
Ingredients matter – a lot. Feeding them foods rich in dietary fiber such as bran flakes, corn, oatmeal, brown rice, and beans may help soften stools and aid in digestion.
This can help to relax the anal muscles and help to pass the stool
Use a footstool to ensure that the feet are properly supported for better pooping posture
Interested to know what a ‘good’ feces looks like? The Bristol stool scale is a 7-point standard used for clinical practice and research, and a good indication of whether your child has constipation. Check your child’s stool content and compare it with the following guide. Normal feces should be the texture of Types 4 to 6, rather than dry and lumpy as shown in Types 1 to 3.
In hard lumps or shaped like nuts
Sausage-shaped or lumpy stools
Like a sausage but with many cracks on the surface
Like a sausage or snake, smooth & soft
Soft blobs with clear cut edges
Fluffy pieces with ragged edges or mushy stools
Watery with no solid pieces or entirely liquid
If your child has experienced this condition for a prolonged period, it would be wise to call your doctor. Your healthcare professional may prescribe probiotics, laxatives, or even surgical treatment for critical cases or organic causes. Do seek medical attention if your child is suffering from any of these following symptoms.
Colon dilation (where the colon is unnaturally extended)
Rectocele (or rectum prolapse)
Poor appetite of your child, not accepting even their favorite treats or formula
Slow weight gain in your child
Persistent pain in the abdomen, especially when accompanied by crying
We hope this article has helped answer some of the questions you may have for child constipation. If in doubt, be sure to consult a medical professional for advice.
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