Constipation is an increasingly common problem in childhood affecting up to 1 in 3 children. It may be related to poor diet, fibre or fluid intake; pain on toileting, fever, medicines or family history. It is also linked to food allergy and intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome in older children and teens. The signs and symptoms of childhood constipation include foul smelling wind, irregular texture of stools, occasional enormous stools, withholding, soiling or overflow and abdominal pain. A lack of energy and poor appetite are frequently associated with childhood constipation, and children can become quite miserable with it.
This can become a chronic problem without realising how it happened. It is not always evident that stools in the large intestine are not being fully evacuated. Stools may stay in the intestinal, moving slowly and can contribute to the bowel stretching and stools becoming larger and more difficult to pass. In addition it can sometimes cause a type of diarrhoea called over-flow diarrhoea or soiling. This is exactly what it sounds like; the large stools which are moving slowly are causing a temporary blockage, and there is a back-up in the traffic which exerts pressure and pushes looser stools past. An impacted bowel is the result of a chronic problem that has not been treated. Families need support and treatment for chronic constipation involving diet, toileting and medication.
Infants and Toddlers
Increasingly infants and toddlers are being treated for constipation. This needs more carefully management, and toddlers can become stuck on laxatives, without the bowel learning how to adapt to changes in diet, movement and fluids. Drinking fluids other than milk is important, water with meals and limiting milk drinking in order to establish a diet balanced in nutrition and with as much variety as possible. This period is a sensitive window in which bowel habits, as well as healthy eating habits are being learned. Often the two go hand in hand.