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Toddler constipation

Constipation is a common condition in all ages but constipation in toddlers can sometimes be difficult to spot. Constipation can cause your child’s stools (poo) to be hard, lumpy, large or small. It may be hard for your child to communicate that something is wrong and symptoms may be as vague as a 'tummy ache'. As a general rule, if your toddler is going to the toilet fewer than three times a week and struggles when he goes, he may have constipation. This is rarely a serious problem and can be treated relatively easily.

Toddler constipation symptoms

On average, toddlers have a bowel movement about once a day but some naturally need to go less and there is nothing to worry about. If you suspect constipation, it’s a good idea to start tracking when your child goes to the toilet and what happens. Possible symptoms of constipation include:

  • Fewer than three poos a week
  • Soiling their pants (soft poos seep around constipated poos)
  • Straining on the toilet
  • Hard, pellet-like poos
  • Blood in poo
  • Tummy ache
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Crying or screaming during bowel movements
  • Reluctance, fear or anxiety about going to the toilet

Toddler constipation causes

In children, constipation can be caused by a number of factors including:

  • Poor diet (high in processed foods or sugar and low in fibre)
  • Change in diet (new foods/transition from breast or formula to cow’s milk)
  • Not enough fluids – dehydration hardens poos
  • Too much milk – can trigger constipation
  • Some medicines – especially pain relievers or iron supplements
  • Fear about using the toilet – can be caused by pain and discomfort
  • Holding it in – embarrassed or too preoccupied to go
  • Poor toilet training – not taught how to ask to go
  • Change in routine – for example, starting at nursery, new nanny
  • Anxiety – worry can cause toddlers to “hold it in”
  • Not enough exercise – activity aids bowel movements
  • Illness – a tummy bug can cause loss of appetite

If your toddler is having trouble going to the toilet it can become a vicious circle. They may develop a fear of going because it hurts, or may stop wanting to go at all. If constipation is causing problems or lasts 2 weeks or more seek medical advice.

Occasionally, constipation may be caused by an underlying condition. This can include:

  • Intestinal problems
  • Anus or rectal problems
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Nervous system disorders

Toddler constipation treatment

The longer your child is constipated the harder it can be to get them back on track. Talk to your GP or health visitor about treatments that will suit your child. Constipation can usually be treated at home. Home remedies may include:

  • Fruit juices, such as apple, pear, or prune juice, to relieve constipation
  • More fruit and veg – such as peaches or cauliflower
  • Gently massage your child’s tummy to relieve trapped wind
  • A warm bath may help relax muscles before a trip to the toilet

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