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There’s a meme on the internet that reads: If you’ve never scooped poop out of a bathtub, are you even a parent?
If you are a parent to a toddler, you know just how true this rings. When you become a parent you either force yourself to push past your aversions to other people’s bodily fluids, public embarrassment, and touching random sticky things, or you’re not going to cut it. That or you have a nanny and if you have a nanny, why are you here?
Having a tiny human become a toddler further pushes your boundaries, especially when your toddler has problems pooping. Fortunately for you, toddler constipation is a common issue. According to the NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), almost 1 out of every 20 visits children make to a doctor are because of constipation. Unfortunately, for you and your toddler, if left unchecked your toddler’s constipation can lead to bigger issues down the road like bladder control problems and fecal impaction among others.
What is Constipation?
Constipation in toddlers can be caused by any number of factors and is best addressed when a problem is first noticed. According to NIDDK, constipation can be:
- Fewer than two bowel movements a week
- Stools that are dry, hard, or lumpy
- Stools that are difficult or painful to pass
If you notice these symptoms in your child, the first plan of action should be to consult your child’s physician. Thankfully, addressing the issue right away can save you a lot of heartache, difficult situations, and negative health repercussions.
Odds are, you noticed your child’s toddler constipation while in the process of toilet training him or her. Experts in toilet training, like Jamie Glowacki, author of the Oh Crap! Potty Training guide agrees that constipation or ‘withholding’, (when a toddler holds in their bowel movements on purpose – which can lead to constipation) must be addressed right away and before toilet training can continue, or begin for those who have yet to start the process.
What are the Symptoms of Constipation?
John Hopkins Medicine says that while symptoms of toddler constipation vary from child to child, here are a few signs to watch out for:
- Not having a bowel movement for a few days
- Passing hard, dry stools
- Having belly (abdominal) bloating, cramps, or pain
- Not feeling hungry
- Showing signs of trying to hold stool in, such as clenching teeth, crossing legs, squeezing buttocks together, turning red in the face
- Small liquid or soft stool marks on a child’s underwear
How is Constipation Diagnosed?
Often a simple physical examination by your child’s physician is the key to learning whether or not your child is constipated. Start by calling your child’s doctor. They can do a physical examination of your child and tell you how to proceed. Stanford Children’s Hospital lists some of the diagnostic tests used to determine whether or not a bigger issue is behind constipation.
What Causes Toddler Constipation?
Your child’s constipation can be caused by something simple, or a combination of factors. Let’s start with the basics:
Diet – A simple internet search will bring up a plethora of food items that can cause constipation in a child. Start by assessing the foods that your child eats most. Often a lack of fiber or not enough fluids in the diet may be the culprit causing your child’s constipation.
Schedule – If your child cannot or will not use school, pool, or gym restrooms, or restrooms in any public place, it may be a busy schedule that keeps your child out of the home for most of the day is the reason your child cannot poop.
Emotional Issues – If your child is stressed, overwhelmed, or embarrassed, they can become constipated. The emotional issues can be those surrounding toilet training, or they may have nothing to do with it.
Withholding – Some children start to hold in their stool and this leads to constipation. Children may hold it in either because they have experienced pain passing a stool, or because of the circumstances at the time. They may be afraid of using the toilet, they are not comfortable using a school or public toilet, or they just do not want to stop their activity to take the time to sit and pass a stool. Additionally, some children start withholding stools as a result of toilet training.
How can I treat toddler constipation?
After you’ve made a call to your child’s physician, assess the situation and make changes to your child’s diet or lifestyle accordingly. Here are a few suggested remedies:
Toddler Constipation Remedies for Immediate Relief
Warm baths – Sometimes, all your child needs to ease their poo problems is a nice warm bath. Soaking in warm water can relax the anus and help release the stool. If you are especially grossed out by the idea of scooping poop out of your tub, try using a disposable tub liner like this one.
Suppositories – Rectal suppositories like these often consist of liquid glycerin and produce a stool within 15-45 minutes. While this may be the most immediate form of treatment, it is probably the most painful or uncomfortable as the stool can be large and hard depending on the child and the length of time they have been holding it in.
Diarrhetics – If you ask anyone’s mother or grandmother, they will tell you to give the child prune juice or castor oil or something similar. These options will work to produce a stool within a day or two. If your toddler is not a fan of prunes, try papayas, nectarines, pears, or raisins.
Osmotics – Remedies like this work by drawing fluids back to the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. This option may take the longest to work but can be the most comfortable option for relief from constipation.
* Seattle Children’s Hospital has a Dosage Table for providing Polyethylene Glycol (MiraLax) to children.
* CHOC Children’s Hospital also provides information on giving MiraLax to children and even includes a helpful infographic on how your child’s stool should look.
Toddler Constipation Remedies for Lasting Relief
Diet Changes – Simple changes in diet such as an increase in fiber and fluids can go a long way toward providing relief from constipation. Check with your healthcare provider about your child’s dairy intake as this could be a factor in constipation for some children. Limit fast food, caffeine, and junk food as well. Stanford has a great infographic of dietary changes that might help ease constipation.
Read More: Healthy finger foods for your toddler
Stop Toilet Training (for the time being) – Take a break from the stress of toilet training and allow your child to use diapers or pull-ups until the toddler constipation or the reason behind it has been resolved.
Lifestyle Changes – Increase physical activity. Often physical activity causes bowel movements. Avoid letting your child sit and watch TV or play video games for long stretches of time. Encourage healthy, regular physical activity.
As a parent, few things can tug on your heartstrings like seeing your child in pain especially when it has to do with a basic function of life. Avoid the heartache by taking note of how often your child has a bowel movement and contact their physician if you think they might be constipated.
Cheers to all you mamas scooping poo out of bathtubs tonight!
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