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Constipation - Danger Signs in Toddlers

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Constipation occurs in infants and children when they have infrequent bowel movements and hard and dry stools. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. J. N. Naidu

Published At August 18, 2022
Reviewed AtOctober 26, 2022

Introduction:

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal problem seen in children. During constipation, your child may have a hard poop and may not go to the toilet regularly. They are more frequent, particularly when they begin to take solid foods and around the time of toilet training. Let us get into the article for detailed information about constipation and its warning signs that may help the parents to take care of their constipated child.

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is when a child experiences hard, dry stools with fewer bowel movements that may be painful and difficult to pass out. Normally, a breastfed baby may poop after each meal, whereas bottle-fed and older children will poop once a day or two. Generally, during the first month after birth, bowel movements tend to be once daily.

Before learning more about constipation, many may wonder what is the meaning of bowel we are talking about?

What Is Meant by Bowel and What Is the Normal Pattern?

Here is the answer to this question. Bowel patterns or movements define how and when the stools are passed. It may vary in each child, like the adults. Some children may have one or two bowel movements a day, and some have once every two days or three days.

What Causes Constipation in Your Baby?

When the stool or feces remains in the colon for a longer time, it absorbs more water and leaves the stool dry and hard. This causes difficulty in passing through the colon, causing constipation. Some of the other causes are:

  • Not taking adequate water and fluids.

  • Lack of fiber-rich food in your child's diet. Also, due to soft drinks, junk foods, etc.

  • Switching to solid foods or from breastmilk to formula milk.

  • Lack of physical activity in your baby. Exercises help to move the digested food through the intestines.

  • Your child may ignore the urge to poop as they may be engaged in play or uncomfortable using public toilets.

  • Sometimes the child withholds the painful bowel movements and hard stools.

  • Some children may be allergic to cow’s milk. Consumption of too many dairy products may result in constipation.

  • If the family members experience constipation, then the child is more prone to develop this condition. This may be due to shared genetic and environmental factors.

Some medical conditions can cause constipation in your child. They are:

  • Bowel diseases affect the bowel muscles, intestinal tract, anus, and rectum.

  • The use of certain medications such as antidepressants and iron supplements can cause constipation.

  • Neurological problems, cerebral palsy, etc.

How to Identify Constipation in Your Baby?

Some children may strain and cry when they have a bowel movement. This does not mean it is constipation. As long as the stool is soft, there is likely no problem.

Some signs that help you to identify constipation in your baby are:

  • Hard and dry stools.

  • Difficulty in passing out stools. Pain during bowel movements.

  • Being very restless, changing their body positions and clenching their buttocks during bowel movements.

  • Belly pain, cramps, and bloating.

  • Liquid or stool traces in their underwear. It is a sign of stool backed up in the rectum.

  • Blood in the stool.

  • Not feeling hungry.

  • Having less than three bowel movements in a week.

  • Anal fissures are caused due to strainful passage of large stools.

What Is Encopresis?

When your child faces constipation for a longer duration, it causes them to soil their pants with poop. This occurs when the child's rectum gets full with stools and is stretched. This makes them poop in their pants even without their awareness. This is called "encopresis" or "fecal incontinence."

How Does the Doctor Diagnose Constipation?

The doctor diagnoses constipation in your baby from the history you provide them. So keep a record of all the things you notice during constipation. Things to be told to the doctor are

  • If there was any dietary change, you made it for your baby.

  • Frequency of bowel movements.

  • Pain felt while pooping.

  • Were there any toilet training practices done recently?

  • Were there any stressful events in your child's life recently?

This history helps the doctor to provide a clear diagnosis and treatment plan.

What Are the Tests Done to Know the Cause of Constipation in Your Child?

  1. Abdominal X-Ray: To check the amount of stool present in the large intestine.

  2. Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): The doctor puts his gloved, greased finger into the child's rectum to detect any abnormalities.

  3. Barium Enema: It is an X-ray examination of the rectum, large intestine, and lower parts of the small intestine. Barium is a metallic fluid taken in a tube and inserted into the child's rectum. This barium coats the organs and can be examined. It shows any narrow areas, blockage, or any other problems.

  4. Anorectal Manometry: This test checks the strength of the bowel muscles and your child’s ability to sense that rectum is full.

  5. Sigmoidoscopy: Sigmoidoscope is a short, flexible, lighted tube inserted into the child's rectum. This blows air into the rectum causing it to swell for easier examination.

  6. Colonoscopy: This test checks the full length of the large intestine for any abnormal growth, tissues, etc.

  7. Lab Tests: Certain investigations rule out conditions such as celiac disease, urinary tract infection, blood lead level, thyroid, and metabolic problems.

When to See the Doctor?

Constipation is not a serious condition. However, chronic constipation can be a sign of any underlying medical condition. When constipation continues for more than two weeks, and if any of the following signs are present, then it is time to take your child to the doctor. They are :

  1. An infant younger than two months of age is constipated.

  2. If your child has a fever, is not eating, and presence of blood in the stools.

  3. A child is experiencing weight loss.

  4. Presence of red, swollen veins in the rectum (hemorrhoids).

  5. If you notice a part of the intestine coming out of the anus (rectal prolapse).

Can Constipation Be Prevented?

Lifestyle modification and dietary changes can prevent constipation in your child.

  • Provide them with extra water and juices in between feedings.

  • If your baby has started to take solid foods, supply them with high fiber-rich foods such as peas, beans, prunes, spinach, etc.

  • Avoid certain foods such as cheese, meat, and processed foods.

  • Encourage your child for more physical activity.

  • Practicing good bowel habits. Train your child into a regular toilet habit. Let your child sit on the toilet for 10 minutes twice a day, especially after meals.

How Can Constipation Be Treated?

If constipation does not get cured even after the dietary modifications and lifestyle changes, then the doctor may treat the child with medications to remove the stool from the body.

  • Use of Laxatives or Enema: This removes the blockage and softens the hardened stool. Never give your child a laxative without the doctor's concern.

  • Hospital Enema: In case of severe constipation, a child may require hospitalization to receive a stronger enema that clears the bowel present in the colon.

Conclusion:

Constipation is not a serious disorder or disease that you have to worry about. A healthy lifestyle and dietary modifications can prevent constipation in your child. In case your child experiences constipation, simple home remedies can cure constipation in your child, only if it continues for more than two weeks, then seek your doctor and get treatment to improve the condition of the child.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Are the Signs of Constipation?

Some children may strain and cry when they have a bowel movement. This does not mean it is constipation. As long as the stool is soft, there is likely no problem

2.

How Do Toddlers React When Constipated?

Children may strain and cry when they have bowel movements and feel difficulty passing out stools—pain during bowel movements.

3.

How to Treat a Severely Constipated Toddler?

Suppose constipation is not cured even after dietary modifications and lifestyle changes. In that case, the doctor may treat the child with medications to remove the stool from the body using laxatives or enemas.

4.

Is Constipation a Severe Condition?

Constipation is not a severe disorder or disease you must worry about. Instead, a healthy lifestyle and dietary modifications can prevent constipation in your child.

5.

How Long Can a Toddler Go Without Pooping?

Generally, during the first month after birth, bowel movements tend to be once daily, whereas constipation results when irregular bowel movements continue for more than two weeks.

6.

How to Prevent Constipation in Toddlers at Home?

Providing them with extra water and juices between feedings and supplying them with high-fiber foods such as peas, beans, prunes, spinach, etc.

7.

How Do I Know if Constipation Is Severe?

If your child has a fever, is not eating, and presence of blood in the stools. Furthermore, a child is exhibiting weight loss accompanied by inflamed veins, redness, swelling in the rectal area, and the observation of a protrusion of the intestine from the anus (rectal prolapse).

8.

How Does Milk Cause Constipation in Toddlers?

Some children may be allergic to cow's milk. In addition, the consumption of too many dairy products may result in constipation.

9.

What Is Encopresis?

When your child faces constipation for longer, it causes them to soil their pants with poop. This occurs when the child's rectum is stretched with stools. This makes them poop in their pants even without their awareness. This is called "encopresis" or "fecal incontinence."

10.

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal problem seen in children. During constipation, your child may have a hard poop and not go to the toilet regularly. They are more frequent, particularly when they begin to take solid foods and during toilet training.

11.

When Should a Toddler Have an Enema at the Hospital?

In case of severe constipation, a child may require hospitalization to receive a more powerful enema that clears the bowel in the colon.

12.

What Is a Barium Enema?

A barium enema is a radiographic procedure involving X-rays to examine the rectum, large intestine, and lower portions of the small intestine. Barium is a metallic fluid taken in a tube and inserted into the child's rectum. This barium coats the organs and can be examined. It shows any narrow areas, blockages, or any other problems.
Dr. J. N. Naidu
Dr. J. N. Naidu

General Practitioner

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hard stoolsconstipation
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