Childhood Constipation

Childhood constipation is a common problem. What constipation is depends on the age of your child:

To see what constipation stools (poop, poo) look like, click here.

In babies, constipation refers to hard bowel motions (stools, poop) not infrequent bowel motions. 

Babies may have several bowel motions per day which is normal or only one every few days which is normal. 

To read about what is normal for a baby's bowel motion, click here.

Constipation in a baby occurs when the stools are hard - read more.

Toddler constipation occurs when the stools are infrequent and hard - to read more about toddlers with constipation, click here.


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In toddlers, constipation refers to hard bowel motions (stools or poop) that are painful to pass or to whenever there has been no bowel motion for 4 days.

Ideally your toddler should have one soft but formed bowel motion per day.

The Bristol Stool Chart shows what normal poop should look (see Type 3 and Type 4) - to view, click here.


Most cases of childhood constipation are not caused by any abnormality of the bowel, but rather by an abnormal bowel habit that has formed.

The abnormal bowel habit usually occurs because your child passes a hard stool. This is painful and your child will not want to repeat the experience, so he will try and withhold stools in the future. This only makes the situation worse, because delay in passing the stool will make it drier (as fluid is absorbed back into the body) and harder. When he does pass another stool it will be hard and painful and this will only confirm his belief that passing stools should be avoided. And so the cycle begins.

The way to treat childhood constipation is to break the cycle. This means that the stool must be softened first and your child taught to go to the toilet regularly.

Sometimes when a hard stool is passed, it breaks the skin of the anus as it stretches it. This can cause bright red blood on the stool and it is painful. It is called an anal fissure. It is not serious but it is an indication that your child is constipated and early intervention will prevent the problem building up.

If a large amount of stool backs up in the intestine, it causes the intestine to stretch and lose its tone - this just makes it harder for your child to push out stool, aggravating the situation. This stretching also causes tummy pain.

When the bowel is bunged up with a lot of stool, the more liquid stool (poop) coming down from the small intestines sometimes leaks around the outside of the hard impacted stool and causes soiling or an "accident". If your child has soiling, the most important thing is to clear out the impacted stool as soon as possible.

The following are signs of childhood constipation:

  • your child passes hard stools
  • your child has not passed a stool for 4 days or more
  • your child complains of pain or cries when passing a bowel motion
  • there is bright blood around the stool
  • there are soiling accidents
  • your child complains of tummy pain, especially if it is relieved by passing a bowel motion

To read more about toddler constipation, click here

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To go to the top of the Childhood Constipation page, click here

To read about constipation in a baby, click here

To read about constipation in a toddler, click here

To read more about the Treatments used for Constipation, click here - information on different agents used for constipation, including natural remedies. Doses of commonly used laxatives given.

To read about adjusting the dose of Laxatives, click here - information on how long laxatives should be continued and how to adjust the dose.

To return to the Home page, click here

Last reviewed on 3 June 2010

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.

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