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What is constipation?

Constipation is having trouble with passing stools (bowel movements). It is very common in young children as their diets and preferences change. It is also common when children are learning how to use the toilet.

What are the signs of constipation?

  • pain when passing stools
  • hard, pebbly, rock-like stools
  • abdominal (belly) pain
  • very infrequent stools (only one in 3 to 7 days)
  • stool soiling in underwear

How do I prevent constipation in my child?

Talk to your doctor or nurse to help you decide what would work best for your child. A good program for preventing constipation may require trying several approaches, time, and patience to find what works for your child. Keep in mind that each child's bowel program is different. Try different methods until the successful one is found for your child.

  1. If your child is toilet-trained, have him or her sit on the toilet for 5 to 10 minutes after breakfast and dinner. (Eating stimulates the bowel to empty.)
  2. If the child's feet do not touch the floor when sitting on the toilet, put a box or stepstool under the feet so the knees are just a bit higher than the hips. This squat position helps in passing the stool. It also helps your child feel well supported so he or she can relax and not tighten muscles while balancing on the toilet.
  3. Praise your child for sitting the decided amount of time, even if he or she does not have a bowel movement. You may want to use a reward system, such as stickers.
  4. Clean the skin well after each bowel movement or accident. This prevents skin irritation. When the skin hurts, children may try to hold back the stool, making matters worse.
  5. Encourage active play and exercise; lack of activity tends to slow bowel function.

What should my child eat to prevent constipation?

Encourage drinking lots of fluids (water and fruit juices, especially apple, pear, cherry, grape, or prune). Make sure your child is eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products each day, which help soften stools and make them easier to pass.
Add bran (wheat or corn) to the daily diet. It may be mixed in cereal, pancakes, hamburger, casseroles, or other foods, or be taken alone.

  • Children younger than 6 years:
    2 heaping teaspoons of bran each day
  • Children 6 years or older:
    3 heaping teaspoons of bran each day

Limit binding foods such as apples, bananas, rice, cooked carrots, cheese, and gelatin such as fruit snacks and Jell-O®. Limit milk and dairy products (substitute with non-dairy and soy products) until constipation is gone. The lactose in milk products is binding to some children.

What should I do to help my child pass a stool?

Talk to your child's nurse or doctor about which of these methods to use and when and how to use them:

  • Stool softener: Medicine that prevents hardening of stool. It can be taken on a regular basis. Your doctor can tell you which one and what dose is best for your child.
  • Suppository: Medicine inserted into the rectum that stimulates the bowel and causes it to contract and push the stool out.
  • Enema: A liquid is inserted into the intestine through the rectum to stimulate the bowel. Do not use enemas until you have talked to the doctor or nurse.

What else do I need to know?

Many children who have wetting problems also have constipation. Constipation can make the wetting problem worse because the bladder and the bowel are next to each other in the abdomen. When a child is
constipated, the rectum may be quite full of hard stool. This can affect the bladder so it does not hold as much urine as it should.
The pressure of the stool may cause pressure on the bladder making it feel like it should empty quickly. A bowel program needs to be used, along with a bladder retraining program to get successful bladder control.

When should I call the clinic?

  • you have increasing concerns or questions
  • any red streaks of blood in the stool
  • constipation continues and no stool is passed in 2 days
  • abdominal pain
  • continued soiling in the underwear
  • you start having battles with your child about stooling


This sheet is not specific to your child, but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call the clinic.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Patient/Family Education
2525 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Last Reviewed 7/2015 © Copyright

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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