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Constipation in children

3-minute read

Constipation in kids is quite common, but usually doesn't have a serious cause. There are plenty of things you can do to help if your child gets constipated.

What is normal for children?

Normal bowel habits for children vary. Most children have a bowel movement at least once every 2 or 3 days, but some may go up to 3 times a day.

Your child is constipated if they are doing hard poo or have trouble pushing poo out. If your child is constipated, they probably aren’t pooing regularly either.

Many healthy children have problems with constipation from time to time. It is fairly common in babies, and also tends to happen around the time of toilet training.

Signs of constipation in children

Signs that your child could be constipated include:

  • seeming uncomfortable or in pain when doing a poo
  • becoming irritable or upset, or refusing to sit on the toilet
  • getting tummy pain that comes and goes
  • not having a good appetite
  • rocking or fidgeting, crossing their legs and looking like they are trying not to poo
  • pooing in their pants

Some children who are constipated also have an anal fissure — a small split in the anus that causes pain and bleeding. This occurs because they have been straining to pass poo.

In babies, constipation can cause dry and crumbly poos, or pain while pooing.

What causes constipation in children?

Constipation in babies can happen if they aren’t having enough breastmilk or because their formula isn’t made up properly.

Children can become constipated if they:

  • hold back bowel movements, instead of going when the urge arises. This can happen if it’s been painful for them to poo before
  • don’t eat enough fibre
  • have an illness that makes them eat and drink less
  • drink too much milk and don’t eat enough solid foods
  • take certain medications, such as some cough medicines

Only a few children get constipated because of a medical condition.

Treating and preventing constipation

It’s important to act if your child is constipated since it can make them very uncomfortable. Constipation can also cause problems such as faecal incontinence.

You can help your child by teaching healthy bowel habits, such as not holding on, and getting them to sit on the toilet after every meal. Reward them when they go and talk to them if they are worried about going to the toilet.

Make sure your child eats high fibre foods. You could give them a natural laxative such as prune juice. To make the it taste better, try mixing it with another juice, or freeze it to make icy poles.

Read more on laxatives here.

When to see a doctor

If the measures above don’t work, see a doctor for advice.

Your child needs medical attention if they:

  • haven’t done a poo in a week
  • poo when they didn’t mean to
  • have other symptoms, like fever or vomiting
  • have a very sore anus
  • aren’t eating or drinking enough
  • need laxatives more than a few times per year

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2019


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