Is your child silently suffering from this condition?
As parents, we typically pay attention to what’s in our baby’s diaper, often analyzing bowel movement consistency, color and frequency. But as children grow and successfully potty train, we aren’t as aware of their bathroom habits as we once were.
Many young children silently suffer from constipation and fecal soiling because they don’t know how to articulate what is going on with their body.
Constipation is the passage of hard, dry stool. Patients who are constipated can have small or large stools, and bowel movements can be infrequent or daily. Another sign of constipation is withholding, where your child may refuse to pass a bowel movement.
Constipation is typically caused by a low-fiber diet, inadequate fluid intake, organic or functional problems. Remember to keep your child hydrated, especially during the hot summer months. Serve them foods with an adequate amount of fiber. Check-in with their pediatrician to determine the appropriate amount of daily fiber for your child. Scheduled toilet time is very important. The best time to sit on the toilet and pass bowel movements is after meals because of the physiologic movements that occurs in the GI tract.
Patients with chronic constipation may also suffer from the involuntary passage of stool, oftentimes causing your child to have an accident. This type of fecal soiling occurs when there is a large, hard stool mass in the rectum. The newly made stools, which are soft or loose, will bypass this hard mass. The patient will then leak out stools without even noticing. This can be extremely embarrassing for your child. It’s important not to scold them when this happens. Speak with their pediatrician to determine the cause of the accidents.
Depending on the child, treatment for constipation and fecal soiling can include diet modification or improvement, behavior changes, taking stool softeners temporarily or long term and incorporating a bathroom schedule until your child begins to have an easier time using the bathroom. Because constipation tends to be a chronic condition, it’s important to be patient with your child’s treatment course.
Check in with your child about their bowel movement frequency and consistency. Even if you don’t notice it, they may be struggling. If your child is experiencing hard, infrequent stools or is having accidents, contact their pediatrician.
About the Author
Dr. Zahra Nouri is a pediatric gastroenterologist with Aurora Children's Health.