Constipation – The Pain of Strain

Poop – a necessary part of life.  It’s amazing how traumatic it can be for kids and parents alike.  So, if your child has a problem with constipation.  Then here are some things that you can do to make it a little easier. 

Some of what you can do depends on the age of the child.  

Young Infants – Babies tend to strain when the poop, especially newborns.  This is normal as long as the poop is soft.  As doctors, we don’t consider it true constipation unless the stools are hard.  It really does not matter too much how often they poop, or how much they grunt and groan and turn purple when trying to go.  Parents often assume that it’s hard for the baby to poop (if we did what they did, we would feel constipated!).  Not true.  However, if they haven’t pooped for 5 days or more, or if they are having hard stools, then it’s constipation.  (If you have a brand new baby, your baby should poop at least once in the first two days of life.)  

So, if you think your baby is constipated, you can try giving 1-2 oz of water. or take your baby’s rectal temperature to see if you can stimulate a bowel movement.  If this fails to produce a prize, then some doctors recommend giving a teaspoon of karo syrup.   If your baby still cannot go, or seems like he is in pain, or has blood in the stool, call your child’s doctor.

Older Infants/Toddlers – Again, it’s the consistency of the poop (how hard it is) as opposed to the frequency (how often) of the poop that determines constipation.  For older infants and toddlers who are now eating foods, there are certain foods to avoid if your baby is having hard stools.  Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast (the infamous BRAT diet) are foods that cause constipation.  So, avoid giving your grunting groaning toddler these foods when they are having trouble.  Also, too much cheese or milk can sometimes constipate.  Your baby needs at least 16-20 oz of milk (formula, breastmilk or whole milk if older than age 1).  More than that may be adding to the hard poop problem.

What can help?  More water, fresh fruits and vegetables (other than bananas).  More  fiber – in the form of oats (oatmeal), bran, whole wheat, will help.  I like to say that white foods constipate (rice, white flour), and brown foods help (whole wheat, bran, etc).  Check the labels of your whole wheat products.  Sometimes the wheat is so processed, that the bread appears brown, but has almost no fiber content.   Prune, raisins and prune juice can also help.

Potty-trainers – This  group is notorious for holding poop.  Something about pooping into the freedom of a potty terrifies those who are learning.  Often, a child will hold his poop until someone puts him back into a diaper.  By holding it in, more water is absorbed from the poop… and voila, constipated, hard stools that hurt.  Then, they are not only worried about the potty, but they are afraid of the next painful poop.  So, they hold it in… and the vicious cycle continues.  

Give your potty-trainer the best chance to succeed.  People tend to poop about 20-30 minutes after eating.  So, if you can, try to put your child on the potty around that time.  Read a book, color, listen to music, watch a portable DVD… do something to help your child to relax and forget about the fact that they are sitting on a potty.  Then, if they happen to go – CELEBRATE!  If they don’t, no reason to make a fuss.  Just wait until the next time.

Some children need Miralax, an over-the-counter stool softener.  This is a flavorless powder that you mix into your child’s drink.  It helps to keep the stools soft and can help children get back into a regular pattern with soft, painless stools.  It is safe to use for a period of time.  Ask your doctor for guidance.  And don’t forget the diet changes (it’s the same as what I’ve written for toddlers above).

Big Kids (and Grownups) – it’s hard to tell sometimes that an older child or teenager has constipation since you no longer are involved in that process anymore (thank goodness).  However, if your child complains of intermittent mild stomachaches, it may be related to constipation.  Avoiding the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast) and too much cheese and milk (make sure they get calcium from other sources) might help.  Increasing fiber and using fiber supplements such as Metamucil or Benefiber will help.  Drinking plenty of water makes a difference.  Prunes, raisins, prune juice will help a lot of people.  If your child has not had a bowel movement in 3-4 days, call your doctor to see other medications are needed.  If the stomach pain is severe, there is blood in the stool, or your child is vomiting, call your doctor immediately.