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These can be tricky to spot. Your child may be constipated if:
If your child is potty trained, soiled pants can be another sign of constipation, because runny poo (diarrhoea) may leak out around the hard, constipated poo. This is called overflow soiling.
If your child is constipated, they may find it painful to poo. This can create a cycle: the more it hurts, the more they hold on to poo. The more constipated they get, the more it hurts, and so on. Even if pooing isn't painful, once your child is really constipated, they may try to avoid going to the toilet altogether.
Your child may be constipated because they:
Find out about other causes of constipation in children.
Click on the the red, amber and green sections below to read about symptoms within each category:
If your child is experiencing significant pain or regularly soiling their pants, despite being on treatment, you should take them back to see your GP. Some children need more aggressive treatment of their constipation and your GP may decide that a paediatrician needs to be involved in their care. If your baby/child develops a new-onset severe tummy ache, please click here for advice about what to do.
What if your child's constipation continues despite changing their diet?
If your child remains constipated despite the treatments listed above, take them to their GP who can decide if they need medicines. The treatment for constipation depends on your child’s age. The longer your child is constipated, the longer it can take to get back to normal, so make sure you get help early.
Laxatives are often recommended for children, alongside diet and lifestyle changes.
It may take several months for the treatments to work, but keep trying until they do. Remember that laxative treatment may make your child's overflow soiling worse for a time before it gets better so consider the impact e.g. on school/planned trips.
Once your child's constipation has improved, it's important to stop it coming back. Your GP may advise that your child keeps taking laxatives for a while to make sure their poo stays soft enough to push out regularly: the medicines are safe and don’t cause a lazy bowel.
Firstly, try to stay calm. Getting constipated and soiling their clothes isn't something your child is doing on purpose, so there's no reason to get cross with them. You may both find the situation stressful, but staying positive and relaxed is the best attitude to help your child, and praising positive steps is important
Think about making changes to your child’s diet. Give your baby extra water between their normal feeds if they haven't started to eat solid food yet. If you're using formula milk, don't add more water to the mixture. For older children, make sure that they drink plenty of fluids and encourage them to eat fruit. Chop or purée it if it's easier for them to eat. The best fruits for constipation include apples, grapes, pears and strawberries.
If your child is potty training, they may be feeling anxious or stressed about using the toilet. This can cause them to hold in their poo and lead to constipation. Give your child plenty of time to use the toilet while they are still learning. Encourage them when they do use the toilet. Some parents find a reward chart works. If you think your child is having difficulty with toilet-training, you can also chat to your health visitor.
Addition information is available about infant crying and how to cope – click here. If you are still concerned about your child, speak to your health visitor or local pharmacist.
For more information and support, we have developed a set of self-help worksheets for parents.
You can also find more advice on:
Click here to hear Dr Mark Tighe (consultant paediatrician) talking about managing constipation in children.