Parents of newborns and toddlers can seem obsessed with their children’s bowel movements. After all, heathy bowels are valid indicators that your child is healthy, active, staying hydrated and enjoying a well-balanced diet. But what happens when passing a stool becomes painful or a good deal of time has passed between your child’s bowel movements? No matter your child’s age, constipation can be painful and scary. If your tot or teen is constipated, there may be any number of reasons why. Here are some causes of constipation in children, and how it is diagnosed.
What is Constipation?
When one eats, our bodies absorb the nutrients in food while processing and removing waste product our body doesn’t need. This digestive process starts when food enters the mouth, moving through the esophagus and into the stomach, where chemicals start to break the food down into a liquid form. From there the liquified food travels to the small intestine, where it breaks down even further. The waste eventually passes through the large intestine – also called the large bowel – then through the rectum and out the anus. Constipation occurs when there is a change or decrease in bowel movements, which can be both uncomfortable and painful.
Causes of Constipation
Constipation is very common in people of all ages. In very young children it could be a sign of dehydration or a diet that is low in fiber. As children age and start to become “potty trained,” they may fear sitting on the toilet or making a mess; they may be apprehensive about doing it wrong or dirtying a diaper when they are supposed to be focusing on going to the toilet. These behaviors may result in your child trying hard to “hold it in,” which can build up to constipation. Likewise, children may not get enough liquids when they have a cold or sore throat or are teething – these changes in status can result in stools not getting enough hydration and constipation resulting.
In older kids, there may be concern about using the bathrooms at school or at daycare; from this the child may prolong using the bathroom until she gets home, resulting in harder stools to pass. Likewise, children who ride school buses, go on extended weekend activities like camping or retreats, or participate in sports may “train” themselves to only go to the bathroom when they feel free and unencumbered to do so. This over time can cause back-up.
No matter the age, diet does play a huge role in maintaining healthy bowels. Diets that are high in fiber and whole grains and low in refined sugars are best. Processed and fast foods are loaded in sodium, additives and fats and can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Not drinking enough water and not getting enough rest or exercises also play key roles in constipation.
For vigilant parents and caregivers, keeping track of bowel movements – time, amount and consistency – is part of the job. It doesn’t take long to realize that a clean diaper combined with fussiness could mean that baby is constipated. On the bright side – if there is one – constipation is an excellent indicator of any number of rather harmless but concerning underlying conditions. Toddlers may complain that their tummy hurts; older kids may specifically point out that they are cramping up.
If the complaint seems urgent and can’t be alleviated with simple techniques like gently pumping baby’s legs in a bicycle fashion or feeding prune juice to your toddler, you may want to visit your pediatrician who likely will gather stool and blood samples and conduct a full physical exam. He may feel for growths or enlarged organs; he may also perform a digital rectal exam or order X-rays to rule out blockage or other obstructions. In extreme cases, you may be referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist who may conduct any number of tests to rule out any concerning conditions.
Pediatric Urgent Care in San Antonio
Constipation is not something to take lightly, especially in children. Hard stools can lead to anal fissures and tears that will make pooping a painful and traumatic experience. Neglecting to address it will just compound the already difficult relationship your child having bowel movement.
If you notice any of the above signs, or if your child is struggling to pass a stool, then it’s time to see a doctor. At Tots ‘N’ Teens Pediatric Urgent Care in San Antonio there is no need to make an appointment, just drop by and our urgent care team will see to it that your child gets the immediate treatment needed. Feel free to call us at (210) 267-5411 or check in online to see the doctor immediately.