What Is Constipation?
Constipation (say: kon-stuh-PAY-shun) is not having a bowel movement (pooping) as often as you usually do or having a tough time going because the poop is hard and dry. Normal poop is sort of soft and easy to pass, so it shouldn't be too hard to have a bowel movement.
Some people think they're constipated if they don't poop every day, but everybody's bathroom habits are different. One kid might go three times a day, and another kid might only go once every 3 days. So the real sign of whether you're constipated is if you're going less than you normally do, or if it's hard to poop.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Constipation?
Besides pooping less often or having a hard time going, you may feel full and have less of an appetite if you're constipated. Your belly may stick out a little too. When you do go to the bathroom, you may feel like you have to work really hard to get the poop out, and it might hurt a little to go.
If your poop is hard and dry, pushing it out may cause tiny tears in the skin of your anus (where the poop comes out). If this happens, you might see a bit of blood on the toilet paper when you wipe. After you're done, you may have only gone a little and feel like you still have to go.
Sometimes when a kid's really constipated, some watery poop like diarrhea might leak out around the hard poop that's still inside. This can cause a messy accident, even for kids who stopped having accidents a long time ago.
Why Do Kids Get Constipated?
Constipation is pretty common and different things can cause it. Here are some reasons why kids get constipated:
- Unhealthy diet. If you fill your diet with fatty, sugary, or starchy foods and don't eat enough fiber, your bowels may slow down. Fiber — found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like oatmeal, popcorn, and whole-wheat bread and pasta — can keep your poop from getting hard and dry. So reach for a pear!
- Not enough exercise. Moving around helps food move through your digestive system. If you don't get enough active playtime — like running around outside — you could get constipated.
- Not enough liquids. Drinking water and other liquids keeps poop soft as it moves through your intestines. When you don't drink enough, the poop can get hard and dry and you might get stopped up.
- Not going to the bathroom when you need to. Sometimes kids don't go to the bathroom when they have to. Maybe they don't want to use the bathroom at school or maybe they just don't want to stop what they're doing right then. But ignoring your body's signals that it's time to go might make it harder to poop later on.
- Stress. Kids might get constipated when they're anxious about school or something at home. This can happen from something like being worried about going to a new school, or having a lot of homework and tests coming up. Being away from home for more than a few days may make you feel a little stressed too. If you think stress is plugging things up for you, talk to an adult you trust about it.
- Some medicines. Some types of medicine can lead to constipation.
- Irritable bowel syndrome. Some kids have a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It can act up when they're stressed or when they run into some triggers, like fatty or spicy foods. A kid who has IBS may have constipation sometimes and diarrhea sometimes, as well as belly pain and gas.
What Can I Do to Prevent Constipation?
You can follow these steps when you're constipated and even when you're not!
- Drink plenty of water. This can keep your poop from getting too hard and dry.
- Eat more fiber. Fruit, vegetables, and whole grains add fiber to your diet. And fiber can keep things moving.
- Ask your parents to use olive oil and other healthy oils in their cooking. This can help make you pass poop more easily.
- Exercise. Throw a ball with your friends, ride your bike, or shoot a few hoops. Activity helps you go to the bathroom regularly. In other words, if you get moving, your bowels will too!
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: April 2023