Pregnancy and baby

Constipation and soiling in children

If your child doesn't empty their bowels at least three times a week, and their stools (poo) are often hard and difficult to pass, they may be constipated. Their stools may look like little pellets.

Soiled pants can be another sign of constipation, as soft stools (diarrhoea) may leak around the hard, constipated stools.

Causes of children's constipation

Too much milk and too little fibre can cause constipation. It may also suggest that your child is worried or anxious about something.

If your child is constipated, they may find it painful to pass stools. This creates a vicious circle: the more it hurts, the more they hold back, the more constipated they get and the more it hurts. Even if passing a stool isn’t painful, once a child is really constipated, they will stop wanting to go to the toilet altogether.

Treating a constipated child

Ask your health visitor or pharmacist whether a suitable laxative may help. They may be able to suggest other alternatives. If it doesn’t solve the problem quickly, talk to your GP.

The longer your child is constipated, the more difficult it can be for them to get back to normal, so make sure you get help. It may take a while for your doctor's recommended treatments to work, but keep trying until they do.

Helping your child avoid constipation

Diet and exercise for constipation

Once the initial problem has been solved, it’s important to do everything you can to stop it coming back. The best way to avoid constipation is to make sure that your child eats plenty of fibre.

Fruit and vegetables, wholemeal bread or chapattis, wholegrain breakfast cereals, baked beans, frozen peas and sweetcorn are all good sources of fibre and are popular with children. They will also need lots to drink, but don’t give them too much milk or squash, as these can cause constipation. Lots of exercise also helps.

Ease your child's concerns

If changing their diet doesn’t help, try to find out whether anything is upsetting your child. For example, they may be afraid of using the potty. Whatever it is, try to reassure and help them.

This may take some time, but letting your child be with you when you go to the toilet can help. Try to be as relaxed as you can about it. If the problem doesn’t go away, talk to your health visitor or GP again.

You can also contact Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) for information.

Page last reviewed: 23/09/2013

Next review due: 23/09/2015

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Media last reviewed: 11/03/2013

Next review due: 11/03/2015

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