In this section
Constipation is when a
child has a hard poo (faeces or bowel movement) or does not go to
the toilet regularly. There is a lot of difference in the firmness
and frequency of bowel movements in normal children.
You only need to worry
about the firmness or frequency of your child's poos if it seems to
be causing a problem. Constipation is a common problem in children,
particularly around the time of toilet training or after a painful
or frightening bowel movement.
Treatment should continue
for enough time to allow the bowel size and sensation to return to
normal. Treatment should include:
It is important for
constipated children to develop the habit of sitting on the toilet
Giving your child adequate
fibre in their diet might help prevent constipation in some
children who have a natural tendency. To add more fibre to your
child's diet, you can give your child:
Reduce cow's milk intake to
a maximum of 500ml per day (for children over the age of 18
months) and avoid sweet drinks before meals. This will help to improve your
child's appetite at meal times.
If you think your baby
(less than 12 months of age) is constipated, you should consult your
family doctor or Maternal & Child Health Nurse. Some babies
might need their formula changed. For infants over six months of age,
increased fruit and vegetables in their diet might help. You can give
your baby strained, stewed prunes or apricots - up to three tablespoons, three times each week or prune juice diluted with water.
You may need to give your
child a laxative if they are constipated. If you find this does not
work, or you need to give it more than a few times in a year, then
you should see your doctor.
Children who have been
constipated for many months are likely to need laxative medications
for several months, as well as encouraging healthy bowel
- this is a mild, natural laxative that works in some
children. Prune juice may taste better if mixed with another juice,
such as apple, apricot or cranberry juice. You can freeze prune
juice to make icypoles.
mixtures - (eg Agarol™, Parachoc™) come as a
flavoured liquid, and work by softening and lubricating the poo to
make it easier to pass.
Macrogol3350 - (eg Movicol™) comes in a
sachet to mix with water and works by softening the poo.
Lactulose - (eg Duphalac™) comes as a sweet-tasting liquid, and works by
softening the poo and stimulating the bowel to empty. It may taste
better mixed with juice or milk. It can cause smelly
poloxalkol - (eg Coloxyl™) comes as a tablet or drops (which are most suitable for children
under three years of age), and works by softening the poo.
Senna - (eg Senokot™) comes as a tablet or granules, and works by stimulating
the bowel to empty. The granules can be mixed with food such as
apple sauce or ice cream. Your child may have diarrhoea or stomach
cramps if the dose is too high. Giving Senokot at night may reduce
Bisacodyl - (eg Durolax™) comes as a tablet and works by stimulating the bowel to
empty. It can cause tummy cramps.
Psyllium husk fibre (eg Metamucil™) this natural fibre supplement helps
soften the poo and is a mild laxative. It comes in both unflavoured and orange flavour.
Suppositories & mini-enemas - (eg Glycerine, Duralax™ and Microlax™) these are
small tablets or liquid that is placed into your child's bottom
(rectum). They stimulate the rectum to empty. They do not soften
the poo in the upper bowel. They are sometimes recommended for
severe constipation but oral laxatives are more effective and less
distressing for most children. Glycerine suppositories may be used
for severe constipation in infants.
Never give an enema
to your child unless your child's doctor has told you
irrigation - a very small number of
children get so severely constipated that they need admission to
hospital for a bowel washout. This is usually done using several
litres of 'bowel prep' fluid. The fluid can be given as a drink or
put down a tube into the stomach (nasogastric
Developed by RCH Dept of General
Medicine and Emergency Department. First
published: 2003. Updated November 2010.