Causes of constipation in children
As with adults, constipation in children is usually not serious and is described as functional constipation, which has no medical reason. It is particularly common in children between 3 and 4 years old, but can occur at any age. That said, it is extremely rare in infants under 2 months old.
Constipation in children: Dietary causes
Constipation in children aged 3 years or more is often linked to their diet. Usually, it means that they do not eat enough high-fibre foods, hence a slower intestinal transit. It is also possible that they eat too many constipating foods such as rice, bananas or cooked carrots. Tip: try to find out what your child ate in the school cafeteria so that you can adapt his or her dinner accordingly. To help your children eat enough fibre, you can give them fresh fruit with the skin left on (e.g. apples), greens, whole grains or legumes (e.g. dried beans, lentils).
Constipation in children: Are they drinking enough water?
Did you know that stool is mainly made up of water? It is logical, therefore, that your child’s stool is dry and difficult to pass if he or she does not drink enough water. To relieve constipation in children between 3 and 6 years old, try making them drink at least 800 ml of fluids per day (water, juice diluted with water, broth, herbal teas). Avoid fizzy drinks that are rich in sugars or sweetened drinks that make children used to the taste of sugar, which in turn leads to them refusing pure water as a beverage. Be sure to offer your children glasses of water without waiting for them to show or say that they are thirsty. When they are between 6 and 12 years old, aim for 1 litre of water per day. Children over 12 should drink at least 1.5 litres of water every day, just like adults!
Constipation in children: Other possible causes
Tiredness, stress and anxiety can also lead to digestive disorders in children. For example, constipation in a 4-year-old child may well be caused by stress linked to starting school or moving.
A habit of holding it in for as long as possible—for fear of pain (bad memories of an episode of constipation), due to embarrassment (e.g. not daring to ask for permission to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom) or even because of the poor condition of the school toilets—is a common cause for chronic constipation in children. If needed, you can bring the issue up with your child’s teacher.
Taking medications (antitussives, antispasmodics) or food additives (thickeners, antiregurgitants) can also cause bowel movements to slow down.
Lastly, though in much rarer cases, a disease can also be the underlying cause of constipation. If in doubt, it’s best to consult a paediatrician to be safe—all the more so if your child complains of pain.