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Constipation in young children

Constipation is common in childhood, particularly when children are being potty trained at around two to three years old.

If your child doesn't poo at least three times a week, and their poo is often hard and difficult to push out, they may be constipated.

Their poo may be large, or it may look like "rabbit droppings" or little pellets.

If your child is already potty trained, soiled pants can be another sign of constipation, as runny poo (diarrhoea) may leak out around the hard, constipated poo. This is called overflow soiling.

If your child is constipated, they may find it painful to poo. This creates a vicious circle: the more it hurts, the more they hold back. The more constipated they get, the more it hurts. Even if pooing isn't painful, once your child is really constipated, they may stop wanting to go to the toilet altogether.

Why children get constipated

Your child may be constipated because they are not eating enough high-fibre foods like fruit and veg, not drinking enough or have problems potty (or toilet) training. Constipation can also suggest that your child is worried or anxious about something. Their worry may be about a big change such as moving house, starting nursery or the arrival of a new baby.

Find out about other causes of constipation in children.

How to treat your child's constipation

Take your child to the GP if you think they may be constipated. The treatment that may be recommended for constipation will depend on your child’s age. Laxatives are often recommended for children who have been weaned, alongside diet and lifestyle changes.

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 early.

It may take several months for the treatments to work, but keep trying until they do. Remember that laxative treatment may make your child's overflow soiling worse before it gets better.

Getting constipated and soiling their clothes isn't something your child is doing on purpose, so there's no reason to get cross with them. You may both find the situation stressful, but staying calm and relaxed is the best attitude to help your child deal with the problem. Your health visitor can offer helpful tips.

Preventing constipation

Once your child's constipation has been dealt with, it's important to do everything you can to stop it coming back. Your GP may advise that your child keeps taking laxatives for a while to make sure their poo stays soft enough to push out regularly. Here are some more tips:

  • Make sure your child has six to eight drinks a day – this includes breastfeeding and formula milk feeds.
  • Give your child a variety of foods, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, which are a good source of fibre. Read about what to feed young children.
  • Encourage your child to be physically active. For more information, read the physical activity guidelines for children aged under five years.
  • Get your child into a routine of regularly sitting on the potty or toilet, after meals or before bed, and praise them whether or not they poo each time. This is particularly important for boys, who may forget about pooing once they are weeing standing up.
  • Make sure your child can rest their feet flat on the floor or a step when they're using the potty or toilet, to get them in a good position for pooing. ERIC, The Children's Bowel & Bladder Charity's guides to children's bowel and bladder problems includes pictures of this position.
  • Ask them to tell you if they feel worried about using the potty or toilet – some children don't want to poo in certain situations, such as at nursery.
  • Stay calm and reassuring, so that your child doesn't see going to the toilet as a stressful situation – you want your child to see pooing as a normal part of life, not something to be ashamed of.

If you'd like advice on taking the stress out of going to the toilet, speak to your health visitor.

More information and support

You can contact ERIC for support. You can also call the helpline on 0845 370 8008 from Monday to Thursday 10am to 2pm, or email a question to

ERIC hosts a Let's talk about poo game to raise awareness of constipation in young children, and suggests ways to help your child. Another site that offers useful tips is NICE: constipation in children and young people.

Page last reviewed: 09/10/2015

Next review due: 31/03/2017


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