Toddlers usually have a pattern of bowel movements depending on how often they eat, how active they are and how quick they metabolize their meals. Every child is different, and even though some may go to the bathroom once a day, other young children may only go to the bathroom every other day or every two days.
If you notice your child’s normal bathroom behavior is a little off schedule, they may be constipated. Luckily, ordinary constipation can be treated easily by changing the child’s behavior or diet.
Symptoms of constipation
To check if your toddler is constipated or not, look for these indicators:
•Your child finds it hard to pass stool and, when they do, their stools are large, hard and dry.
•Your child has a bowel movement less than three times a week or much less than their normal pattern.
•There is blood on the outside of the stool.
•There is stool in your child’s underwear between bowel movements.
Besides these symptoms related to bowel movements, you may find that your child’s behavior and health has changed as well. Watch for these signs:
•Change in mood
•Crying during bowel movements
•Change in eating habits
•Avoiding the bathroom or physically preventing themselves from having a bowel movement
If your child is experiencing chronic constipation — going for weeks at a time without having three or more movements per week, or constantly having to strain to pass stool — it may be related to an underlying medical problem, and you should take the child to a health care provider.
What causes constipation?
Most childhood constipation — the vast majority — can be attributed to a combination of biological and psychosocial triggers, including:
Diet. Your child’s eating habits are among the top contributing factors when it comes to constipation. Getting more fibrous fruits and vegetables on their plate will help soften their stools and make them easier to pass, and hard stools can also result from not enough liquid in their diet. In addition, a sudden change in diet can impact bowel movements.
Withholding. If your child has had trouble going to the bathroom in the past, that painful experience may have caused some distress – making the prospect of going to the bathroom a little intimidating. Some children may avoid going to the bathroom for this reason, or simply because they are uncomfortable with going to the bathroom in an unfamiliar place such as a play park or mall.
Changes in routine. Going on vacation or traveling can affect your toddler’s regular bathroom schedule. Also, waking up earlier than usual to attend school or being in a new environment can also be a temporary cause.
Not enough exercise. Physical activity helps with the digestive process, and can make passing stool much easier. Children who are mostly sedentary may experience constipation more than others.
Keeping constipation from coming back
Besides monitoring their diet and ensuring your child acclimatizes to new environments, there are dietary and behavioral changes you can try at home to address the child’s triggers and keep the child regular.
•Introduce high-fiber vegetables like broccoli and beans at mealtime.
•Increase the amount of liquid you give them — try juices high in sorbitol (a common ingredient in laxatives), like prune and mango juice.
•Encourage regular bowel movements by offering your child a reward or turning bathroom time into game time.
•Adjust your toddler’s posture on the toilet by placing a small stool or pedestal under their feet. This may make it easier to empty the bowel.
•Review and adjust any medication your child is taking with a medical professional as some are likely to cause constipation.
•Promote regular physical exercise to help stimulate bowel function.
If your child is constipated right now, a specially-formulated children’s laxative purchased over-the-counter may provide immediate relief, but be sure to follow the directions, and it’s always a good idea to check with your pediatrician first before giving a child any laxative.
Constipation in toddlers is very common and for the most part will be self-correcting within a few days. If your child does not respond to treatment or is chronically constipated, or if your instincts are telling you that something is wrong, call your family doctor or pediatrician.
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