Constipation in babies and children
Constipation in babies and children can be caused by poor diet, fear about using toilet, poor toilet training, and infrequent or irregular bowel movements. A baby or child with constipation may display the following signs and symptoms:
- loss of appetite,
- lack of energy,
- being irritable, angry, or unhappy,
- foul smelling wind and stools,
- abdominal pain and discomfort,
- soiling their clothes, and
- generally feeling unwell.
If a baby or child is displaying these symptoms, or has spoken to you about having difficulty in passing stools, you should speak to a doctor.
Children who are overfed are more likely to have constipation, as are those who do not get enough fluids. Babies who have too much milk are also more likely to get constipation. As with adults, it is very important that your child has enough fibre in their diet.
Make sure that you do not make your child feel stressed, or pressured, about using the toilet. It is also important to let your children try things by themselves (when appropriate). Constantly intervening when they are using the toilet may make them feel anxious.
Some children can feel stressed or anxious about using the toilet. They may have a phobia about using the toilet, or feel that they are unable to use the toilets at school. This fear or phobia may be the result of your child experiencing pain when passing stools. This can lead to poor bowel habits, where children ignore the urge to pass stools and instead withhold them, for fear of experiencing pain and discomfort. However, this will mean that their condition only worsens.
Constipation in children can sometimes be a side-effect of medicines such as:
- antiepileptics– medicines to treat epilepsy,
- sedating antihistamines– medicine to relieve the symptoms of allergies, such as itching and inflammation, and
- opioids– a type of painkilling medicine.
The majority of constipation cases are not caused by a particular medical condition. However, constipation in babies or children can rarely be a sign of an underlying condition. In children such conditions include:
- Hirschprung’s disease– a condition that affects the large intestine, making it difficult to pass stools),
- anorectal malformation– a condition where the baby’s anus and rectum do not form properly,
- spinal cord abnormalities– for example, rare conditions such as spina bifida, and cerebral palsy, and
- cystic fibrosis– a genetic condition that causes the body to produce thick and sticky bodily substances which, in the digestive system, which can lead to constipation.