Causes of Constipation in Children and its Prevention Techniques - Health Education - DesiMD Healthcare - India
Health Education

Constipation in Children

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 29 Jul 2014 - 15:11.

Constipation is a common problem which affects not only the adults but also the younger ones including infants.It is difficult to identify if your child has constipation. Different children have different patterns of passing stools and in the same child you may notice varied number of stools alternating with regular pattern. In other words the child may pass more times in a day and less times on other days. Individual patterns depend on the number of feeds, the type of feeds, how active the child is and how quickly she can digest and gets rid of the waste.

The best yardstick to determine if your child has constipation is when you notice less frequent bowel movements particularly if she/he hasn’t passed stools in three or more days and is in obvious discomfort when she has a stool. The doubt is confirmed when the child strains to pass hard stools.

Having ascertained that the child is constipated it is very difficult to assess the cause which mainly depends on how old the child is and what she eats and drinks. Breastfed babies are rarely constipated. Breast milk has the perfect balance of fats and proteins ensuring stools that are almost always soft even if the baby has variations in the number of stools she passes regardless of not having passed stools for many days.


However, remember to consult your doctor if you notice that the baby is passing hard and painful stools. The child may have an underlining medical condition to account for constipation. The best example to doubt a medical condition is when the child is vomiting greenish yellow material with a swollen or distended belly like in case of blocked intestines. Most importantly, if your child hasn’t passed the blackish material called meconium within the first 48 hours of birth, it is most likely that she has a congenital problem called Hirshsprung disease, where the nerves necessary for bowel movements are missing at some places of the intestine leading to constipation and distension which needs immediate surgical attention.

Formula feeds: If your baby is passing hard and infrequent stools with a sense of discomfort when she does pass a stool the cause could be due to her formula feeds. If this happens try to change the formula in consultation with your pediatrician who can advise better options. Most parents have a doubt that low iron formulas cause constipation. However, researchers believe that this has no bearing on constipation.

Transition from liquid to solid diet: Yet another cause could be while changing from liquids to solid food. It is common for mothers to start rice cereals when changing to solids. Normally rice cereals are low in fiber. In such cases adding pureed (very soft) fruits or vegetables to regular cereals or switching to barley or oat cereal may help in preventing constipation.

Dehydration: Another important culprit in the causation of constipation is dehydration. If the baby doesn’t drink enough fluids nature helps in absorbing whatever fluids are available in the system, including in the bowels, to maintain a balance, thereby leading to constipation when your baby wets fewer than 5 to six diapers a day. 

Lack of activity may lead to constipation. If she has learnt crawling encourage her to crawl more with a view to ensuring blood flowing to all her organs. If she is yet to learn crawling try to pump her limbs like cycling.

Prevention of constipation:

You can ease bowel movements in your baby by observing the following:

  • Bicycle your baby’s legs. While your baby is lying on her back gently move her legs in a forward circular motion as if she is peddling a cycle.
  • Massage your baby’s belly. Apply gentle pressure over her belly with your finger tips roughly 2 inches below her umbilicus and maintain firm pressure for about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • If your baby is on formula milk, ask your pediatrician if there is any need to change the formula.
  • If your baby is around 6 months old and has made a transition from liquids to solids cut down on foods known to cause constipation like rice and bananas.
  • For an older baby, say 7 to 9 months, who is already in the habit of regular solid foods check with your pediatrician if you could add a teaspoon of bran to her cereal to increase the fiber content.
  • Give more fluids to keep the stools softer.
  • If the child is passing very hard stool you can consider asking the doctor whether you can give any over-the counter stool softener to make the bowel movements more comfortable.
  • If your pediatrician agrees you can consider glycerin suppository should the child is severely constipated. The suppository is meant to stimulate the rectum and help her pass a stool. Remember to use this sparingly to avoid habit forming in the baby.
  • If the hardness in the stool causes mild tears in the anal region you can apply aloe vera lotion over the tears.
*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.