What Is Constipation
Constipation is an abnormal pattern of bowel movements where stools are harder or passed less frequently than usual. A child may have repeated episodes of tummy pain if he or she is constipated.
Everyone has a different bowel pattern. It may be normal for a child to have bowel movements 2 to 4 times daily or once every 2 to 3 days. It is not uncommon for breastfed babies to have large and soft bowel movements without pain up to 7 days apart.
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Causes of Constipation
Constipation in most infants and children is not caused by any serious medical condition. Very rarely, disease causes constipation. In this case the problem usually begins in the early weeks of life. In most children, there is no disease but once constipation begins, it tends to continue.
Some of the factors that may contribute to the onset of constipation are:
- Lack of fibre-rich foods and inadequate fluid intake in the diet.
- Poor bowel habits, problems with toilet training or unwillingness to spend time in the toilet.
- Small tears at the bowel opening (anus).
- Consumption of certain medications such as iron supplements.
- Having symptoms such as vomiting or fever, where a lot of fluids in the body may be lost.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Constipation
A child is constipated whenever his or her bowel movement slows down noticeably. Sometimes constipation can cause recurrent tummy pain.
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Diagnosis And Treatment Options For Constipation
If your child has severe pain around the anus during a bowel movement, there may be a tear at the anus. Do visit a doctor, who may prescribe some medicine to be applied around the area to ease the pain.
If the tummy pain is severe, your child’s doctor may prescribe some medicine to help soften your child’s stool. An enema may be necessary to help clear out the existing hard stool.
Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic used and how long it must be taken will depend on the type and severity of bacteria causing the infection.
After several days of antibiotics, your doctor may repeat the urine tests to check if the infection is gone. An incompletely treated urinary tract infection can recur or spread.
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Tips For Taking Care Of Children With Constipation
How do I prevent my child from getting constipation?
- Ensure that your child’s diet contains adequate fluids and fibre-rich foods that act as natural laxatives. Examples of fibre-rich foods include:
- Fruits such as apples, pears, papaya, prunes and peaches
- Vegetables such as beans, peas and spinach
- If your child is more than 6 months old, introduce fibre-rich foods to his or her strained or pureed food twice daily.
- Do not give your child an enema or suppository (medicine administered in the rectum) unless advised by your doctor.
- Help your child to establish regular bowel habits when he or she is about 2 to 3 years old. Spend a few minutes in the toilet or on the potty once or twice daily immediately after meals. If he or she is small in size, a footrest is necessary so that the legs do not dangle and the knees are in a crouched position.
- Encourage your child to pass out stools completely by minimising distractions around him or her. Have your child spend an extra few minutes on the potty even after he or she thinks that the routine is done.
What should I do if my child has constipation?
- Be patient. Improvement may be slow and it can take several weeks of active treatment before your child returns to his or her normal bowel pattern.
- Always consult your child’s doctor before giving a laxative.
- Do not punish your child if he or she does not have a bowel movement or soils his or her underclothes.
Bring your child to a doctor if:
- Your child’s general health, appetite or activity seems to be affected.
- Your child has severe tummy pain.
- There is blood in the stool.
- Your child cannot pass a bowel movement after 4 days despite increasing fibre-rich foods and fluid intake in the diet.
- Your child loses some control of his or her bowel actions and begins to soil the underclothes.
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The information provided on this page is meant purely for educational purposes and may not be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should seek the advice of your doctor or a qualified healthcare provider before starting any treatment or if you have any questions related to your child’s health, physical fitness or medical conditions.