Kids Health: Signs That Your Child is Constipated


 Constipation is the number one cause of abdominal pain in children and is a top reason for a doctor visit or ER visit. The pain from constipation can be so severe that it may seem like it is something much more than just stool build up. So how can you recognize signs that your child may be constipated?

Most people think that if a child is pooping daily he cannot be constipated, or if she is only pooping once every third day then she must be constipated. However, the frequency does not always dictate constipation – this may be normal for your child. The key is that bowel movements should NOT be painful.  If it hurts to poop, then there is a good chance you are constipated.

If a child complains of stomach pain (usually all over or mostly around the belly button) that improves even slightly after a bowel movement, then the pain is likely due from constipation. If the stools are hard, dry, painful, or small and round and/or your child spends a long time on the toilet to try and poop, then this is likely constipation. Sometimes there is blood on the stool or on the toilet paper, and this is just from pressure from a hard stool passing during a bowel movement causing a small bleed with constipation.

Most everyone will develop constipation for a short time, and it can occur at any age. Temporary changes in diet, travel, hydration, or stress can cause constipation for a few days that may or may not require treatment. Even after an illness like a stomach bug, the intestines can slow down for a short time and your child can be constipated. Sometimes constipation starts as a temporary situation but the child becomes scared to poop so holds it in, which worsens the constipation by creating more stool build up in the intestines.

For temporary constipation, sometimes just drinking more water or some juice will relieve the symptoms. Increasing the fiber in your diet keep a healthy GI tract and prevents the stool from becoming hard and dry. For more long-term constipation issues, it may take weeks, months, or years of a treatment regimen and bowel training to relieve the constipation and get the intestines working back to normal.

The sooner constipation in your child is recognized, the sooner he gets back to normal and you can learn how to prevent constipation from returning. This problem is so much more common than many people think, so do not hesitate to contact your child’s doctor if the stomach pain seems to be getting more frequent and does not show signs of improving.

Jennifer Adair M.D.

Jennifer Adair, M.D., was born and raised in Mobile. She graduated from Davidson High School in 2002 and received her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at The University of Alabama in 2006. She completed her medical training at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, and pediatric residency at the University of Nevada College of Medicine – Las Vegas and the University of South Alabama. She joined Children’s Medical Group in July 2013 and currently practices at their Airport office. Jennifer and her husband, Cory, reside in Mobile with their dogs, Fitz and Barkley.