Anyone who has had a child who has had constipation knows how worrisome it can be. You know your child hasn’t had a bowel movement in a week, you can see the grimaces and discomfort, and you sit and wait feeling helpless about the situation. Childhood constipation is a serious, and sometimes chronic, problem that comes from a variety of causes.
It’s diagnosed when a child has fewer than three bowel movements per week, or shows regular difficulty in evacuating their bowels.
Are you thinking, “Three per week? My child will sometimes go for two to three weeks without pooping!”? In some children, constipation is a regular occurrence and can lead to cycles that end when children have an unexpected or embarrassing toileting accident. Medical problems or birth differences such as Spina bifida can be associated with the problem. In all instances, a phone call to a pediatrician or family doctor is important to make sure that simple constipation is the real problem.
Of course, parents have struggled with their kids’ unproductive bowels throughout history, but it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve focused on the causes of constipation and not just the remedies. In the 1800s, when not only constipation but other nastier conditions such as ringworm were a common part of childhood, newspaper ads promoted a basketful of cures including various health oils and potions, and tragically, mercury, which is highly toxic to children.
Some of the reasons for non-disease related constipation can include behavioral reactions to toileting, an experience of passing a painful stool, or dietary issues that contribute to the problem. Negative feelings about potty training can factor in, as the bathroom sometimes feels like a “stress-room” that interrupts fun playtime. Some children may be fearful of germs, or worry about wiping. It’s always more difficult to uncover the underlying cause if constipation is related to an emotional reaction in a child because they often don’t have the words to describe their feelings or fears.
Children sometimes give clues to their behavior and reactions. For example, saying “it hurts” when they describe how it feels to go to the toilet.
According to experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics, dealing with constipation takes time due to the fact that the problem itself has developed over time. With any long-term project, its best to lay out a plan and strategy ahead of time. Most treatment approaches include one or more of the following:
- A change in diet and exercise that includes an increase in fiber and decrease in milk, cheeses, or other stool-hardeners.
- A change of approach in the bathroom – make it a more enjoyable place to “hang out” while waiting, maybe by increasing praise, and providing stickers, favorite music, and books.
- Avoid situations where your child thinks you’re interrrupting their play just because you feel like its time for them to go, and instead make it part of the daily routine in the morning or after school.
- Follow your doctor’s advice about the way to use stool softeners or constipation remedies such as natural laxatives. Remember that establishing regularity involves creating a cycle, not just being successful once.
The biggest challenge in dealing with constipation successfully is reducing your own stress and allowing more time while you try more strategies. In most situations, there is a strategy combination that will work, and trial-and-error is the only way to get there.