Home Remedies for Constipation in Kids

Child in Bathroom.jpg

When you've got to go, you've got to go - except when you can't. It’s one thing to deal with constipation as an adult, but it’s another to watch your child struggle. Jeremy Granger, MD, UnityPoint Health, treats constipation more often than you’d think. He offers advice on signs to watch for, as well as home remedies for constipation in kids.  

Constipation in Kids

Constipation in kids is extremely common, affecting roughly 30-35% of children. Dr. Granger says toddlers and preschool-age children are the largest age group, which can be related to a variety of factors.

“If your child is constipated, it can be due to a range of issues that affect elimination,” Dr. Granger says. “It can vary from infrequent bowel movements, to having hard stools, passing large stools that are painful and even accidentally passing stools due to build-up.”

Signs of constipation in kids include any of the following:

  • Two or fewer bowel movements per week
  • Hard stools (balls of stool or firm stools)
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Blood in the stool or when wiping (small fissure, or tear, of the rectum)
  • Firm or painful abdomen, especially after meals
  • Fear of using the toilet (along with painful bowel movements)
  • Decreased appetite 

Home Remedies for Constipation in Kids

If you think your child is constipated, Dr. Granger lists safe and easy options for quick relief at home:

  • Try abdominal massage. For infants and small children, massaging the abdomen and bicycling the legs are great measures to help pass stools. It's safe and not too traumatic for the child or parent.
  • Use natural laxatives. Foods that help with constipation in kids include prunes, apples and pears. They're nature's laxatives. These fruits contain a sugar called "sorbitol," which draws water into the bowels and softens the stool. Offer these foods with water to help with easier bowel movements. 
  • Increase water. Water intake (for children older than one) keeps the body hydrated, which also makes passing stools easier. Getting enough water helps prevent constipation and promotes regularity. Babies can have 2-5 ounces of water a day starting at six months of age.
  • Increase fiber. Feed your child a diet rich in fiber by aiming for five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Couple that with drinking plenty of water. Processed or high-fat foods and unhealthy eating habits can factor into many health problems, including constipation. 
  • Decrease dairy. Excess dairy intake, especially milk, can cause constipation. Many children have a sensitivity to the proteins found in cow's milk. Other dairy products, like cheese, cottage cheese or string cheese, can also cause constipation. While it's a healthy snack option, dairy products are low in system-regulating fiber. 
  • Provide stress free potty breaks. Constipated children may take a much longer time in the bathroom to have a bowel movement. Ensure good bowel habits by having their feet supported on a stool, or the floor if they can reach. Allow them plenty of uninterrupted time to move their bowels. Encourage or schedule potty breaks and consider small rewards for successful potty time. 

“If you're looking for instant relief for your child, we get it. No one likes to see their child in pain. However, most of these remedies take some time. Overall, it depends on how your child reacts to each individually," Dr. Granger says.

How to Relieve Constipation in Kids

When it comes to giving your child products or over-the-counter medication to help with constipation, Dr. Granger says you should first talk to your child’s provider. He outlines common options you may discuss.

  • Probiotics. Probiotics are often used for pediatric patients, especially while on antibiotics. They help keep the good bacteria in the stomach, since antibiotics fight all bacteria. These good bacteria also help promote bowel regularity. However, there's very limited research supporting probiotic use to treat constipation itself, and it’s not routinely used as a sole treatment.
  • Suppositories and enemas. Suppositories help stimulate rectal muscles to encourage a bowel movement but can be uncomfortable for the child when inserted and, if not done correctly, can cause rectal trauma. Enemas also help to directly soften the stool, but they, too, can be uncomfortable and must be done correctly. If you’re concerned your child may need either of these options, visit with their care team.
  • MiraLAX. MiraLAX is a good medication for constipation, both acute and chronic, when used correctly in children over one year old.  MiraLAX helps bring fluid back to the stool, so it doesn’t get too hard and is easier to pass. MiraLax comes in a powder with no color or taste, which is great for young patients. It can be picked up over-the-counter, but always see your child’s doctor before starting it. 

When to Call a Doctor about Constipation in Kids

If your child is experiencing any of the following, Dr. Granger says it's important to have them seen by their doctor:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Vomiting associated with the constipation
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Children over the age of one not having daily soft stools despite home remedies