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Soiling (child pooing their pants)

Soiling is when a child regularly poos their pants. If they're already potty-trained, the soiling is usually because they are badly constipated. Treatment from a GP can help.

Causes of soiling

You may feel angry or frustrated when your child keeps pooing themselves. But they are not doing it on purpose and may not even realise it's happening.

Soiling usually happens when a child is so constipated that a large, hard piece of poo becomes stuck at the end of their gut (rectum).

Fresh poo from higher up the gut then runs around the hard poo and leaks out, staining their pants.

Signs your child is badly constipated

If your child is constipated, they may have:

  • runny poo (you may mistake this for diarrhoea) or bits of hard poo appearing regularly in their pants
  • pain when they poo – they may try to hold in their poos because of this
  • tummy pain that comes and goes
  • big, hard poos, or small poos like "rabbit droppings"
  • fewer than 3 poos a week

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your child is regularly soiling their pants

It's important not to try to sort out soiling by yourself.

Treatment from a GP

If your child is pooing their pants, a GP can prescribe laxatives to clear out the hard poo and get your child pooing regularly and comfortably again.

This can take a few months to work. The GP will want to see your child regularly to check how they are doing.

The soiling may get worse before it gets better.

Things you can do at home

If your child poos their pants, it can help to:

  • set up a regular toilet routine for your child – for example, they could sit on the toilet for 5 minutes every day after each meal and before going to bed
  • be positive and encouraging – you could use a star chart to reward your child for sitting on the toilet (whether or not they do a poo), or leave some toys or books next to the toilet
  • encourage your child to go to the toilet as soon as they get the urge to during the day
  • make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids and has enough fibre in their diet
  • encourage your child to be physically active

Page last reviewed: 18 November 2020
Next review due: 18 November 2023