Constipation in Children: Care Instructions

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Constipation is difficulty passing hard stools and passing fewer stools. How often your child has a bowel movement is not as important as whether the child can pass stools easily. Constipation has many causes in children. These include medicines, changes in diet, not drinking enough fluids, and changes in routine.

You can prevent constipation—or treat it when it happens—with home care. But some children may have ongoing constipation. It can occur when a child does not eat enough fiber. Or toilet training may make a child want to hold in stools. Children at play may not want to take time to go to the bathroom.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

For babies younger than 12 months

  • Breastfeed your baby if you can. Hard stools are rare in breastfed babies.
  • If you are switching from breast milk to formula, you can try to give your baby water between feedings. Only give your baby 1 fl oz (30 mL) to 2 fl oz (60 mL) of water no more than 2 times each day for 2 to 3 weeks. Be sure to give your baby the suggested amount of formula for each feeding plus the extra water between feedings. Don't give extra water for longer than 3 weeks unless your doctor tells you to. Don't give plain water to a baby younger than 2 months.
  • If your child is older than 6 months, you can give your child fruit juices, such as apple, pear, or prune juice, to relieve the constipation. Don't give more than 4 fl oz (120mL) a day and don't give it for more than a week or two.
  • When your baby can eat solid food, serve cereals, fruits, and vegetables.

For children 1 year or older

  • Give your child plenty of water and other fluids.
  • Include high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, or whole grains in your child's diet each day.
  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.
  • Make sure your child gets daily exercise. It helps the body have regular bowel movements.
  • Tell your child to go to the bathroom when they have the urge.
  • Do not give laxatives or enemas to your child unless your child's doctor recommends it.
  • Make a routine of putting your child on the toilet or potty chair after the same meal each day.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • There is blood in your child's stool.
  • Your child has severe belly pain.
  • Your child is vomiting.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's constipation gets worse.
  • Your child has mild to moderate belly pain.
  • Your baby younger than 3 months has constipation that lasts more than 1 day after you start home care.
  • Your child age 3 months to 11 years has constipation that goes on for a week after home care.
  • Your child has a fever.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.