Understanding and treating constipation in children

Constipation is described as the infrequent passage of stool or the passage of hard stools. The problem is common in children, occurring in up to 10 per cent of kids. Only about 3 per cent of parents actually seek medical advice on how to treat constipation in children. It is advised, however, that you treat stools that happen only once every three days and hard stools that are difficult to pass as constipation.

Causes of constipation in children

Constipation in children can be caused by many things. The most common cause in children older than 18 months is skipping going to the toilet for one reason or another. For example, children at school may avoid going to the toilet because of toilet privacy or cleanliness concerns.Toddlers may be too occupied with play or are impatient to take toilet breaks.

When stool is not passed, it remains in the colon. The colon absorbs water out of stool, making it dry and hard. When stool is dry and hard, it becomes difficult or even painful to pass. Children continue to “hold it in” when stool is difficult pass, which only aggrivates the problem.

Another major cause of constipation in children is diet or changes to diet. Diet and changes in diet are known to have an effect on bowel habits. In adults, high fibre diets are encouraged because they improve bowel function. However, high fibre diets can cause constipation in children. Infants and children who eat well-balanced meals don’t usually suffer constipation.

Treatment for constipation

If your child suffers constipation, change the child’s diet as the first course of action. Give older children a well-balanced diet that contains whole grain foods, such as wholemeal bread and pasta, as well as vegetables and fruits. If this treatment does not work, visit your doctor and a laxative will be prescribed. Laxatives are a type of medicine that helps people pass stools more easily.

Bottom line

Constipation in children is common and usually treated successfully using a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes. Allow your child at least 10 minutes in the toilet so that s/he can pass as much stools as possible. Also, consider having a system in place that rewards kids for positive toilet routines to beat constipation completely.

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