Constipation in toddlers is among the most common issues that parents will face. Toddlers are still developing their eating habits and this can have a direct impact on their stooling patterns.
When parents realize that their toddler has gone for a while without pooping, this is going to raise alarms. Because the language skills of toddlers are also still developing, they might not directly communicate to their parents that it has been a while since they have pooped.
Therefore, it is important for parents to not only be able to spot the signs of constipation in toddlers but also understand how to treat it as well as when to see a doctor.
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Why Do Toddlers Become Constipated?
First, it is important to understand some of the most common reasons why toddlers develop constipation. Some of the most common causes include:
Withholding: Without a doubt, this is the most common reason why toddlers become constipated. For example, many toddlers are going through the potty training process. They might be scared of the toilet and are unwilling to use it. If they aren’t wearing diapers, then they might not want to poop at all.
Furthermore, some toddlers might be comfortable with the toilet at home but might not want to use the bathroom in public places. This is another common reason why they withhold their stool.
The longer they withhold their stool, the harder it becomes, and the more painful it gets. This creates a positive feedback loop.
Changes in Diet: Another common cause of constipation in toddlers is a sudden change in their diet. Many toddlers are slowly expanding their diet and this could lead to constipation issues.
For example, if toddlers eat a lot of bananas and peanut butter but do not eat a lot of fiber, then this could lead to constipation.
Changes in Routine: Stooling is a behavioral pattern and some toddlers do not respond well to changes in their routine.
Travel, starting school, and irritability can all impact a toddler’s stooling patterns. When kids are away from home (including at school), they are more likely to develop constipation.
Underlying Medical Conditions: While this is unusual in toddlers, this can still lead to constipation.
If there is a metabolic issue or an anatomic problem, this could contribute to constipation.
Family History: Finally, toddlers with a family history of constipation (particularly in a sibling or a parent) are more likely to develop this issue themselves.
These are a few of the most common reasons why toddlers develop constipation.
How Do I Know if My Toddler Is Constipated?
First, it is important for parents to note that most toddlers do not stool every day. While this is normal for teenagers and adults, this is not a requirement for children before they start school. Some of the most common signs of constipation include:
- A toddler that has fewer than three bowel movements in a seven day period
- A toddler who complains that his or her poops are hard and difficult to pass
- Blood on the surface of the stool
- Small strings of liquid, pasty stools
- Abdominal pain
- A fear of pooping due to pain
Any toddler who experiences the symptoms above should be treated for constipation.
How Do I Treat My Toddler for Constipation?
Many cases of constipation can be treated at home. Some of the steps that parents might be able to take to help toddlers with constipation include:
- All toddlers who are constipated should increase their water intake. This will make the stool softer, possibly alleviating pain and discomfort that prevents him or her from stooling.
- All toddlers who are constipated should stay away from bananas and peanut butter while increasing their intake of nuts, fruits, and veggies (with the skin on to boost fiber intake).
- Toddlers who continue to have trouble stooling may benefit from an over-the-counter fiber supplement such as Metamucil or Citrucel. In order for these products to work, toddlers must keep up their water intake.
- If this continues to be an issue, parents could try glycerin suppositories which can soften the tool and trigger bowel movements.
Doctors may also recommend:
- A laxative such as polyethylene glycol (MiraLax)
- An enema that can be given at home
- A brief visit to the hospital for a disimpaction and enema
These measures are rarely recommended
When Should I Take my Toddler to See a Doctor?
While many cases of constipation in children can be treated at home, there are some situations where parents should take their toddler to see the doctor when constipated. These include:
- Toddlers where the above options have not worked after a few days
- Toddlers who are running a fever, as this could be a sign of a serious infection
- Toddlers who are constipated and have refused to eat for more than a day
- There is blood present in the stool
- There are signs that the abdomen is swollen
- Toddlers who are constipated and losing weight
- Toddlers who have a portion of the intestine come out of the anus during bowel movements, which is called rectal prolapse
These could be symptoms of a more serious underlying cause when it comes to constipation. It is always better to have a doctor examine toddlers with these symptoms to make sure that further imaging or treatment is not required.
Treat Constipation Efficiently in Toddlers
Constipation is one of the most common medical issues that toddlers will face. It is important for parents to keep their eyes open for a few of the symptoms and causes discussed above.
There are also ways for parents to treat constipation at home. Finally, all parents should also know when to take their toddler to see a doctor.