While the average person’s bowel movements may range in frequency from 3 times per day to 1-2 times per week a person is usually considered constipated if they experience at least 2 of the following symptoms:

  • Straining during a bowel movement at least once out of four trips to the potty
  • One in every four stools is hard
  • Unable to finish going to the bathroom in one sitting
  • Two or less bowel movements in a week

Causes of Constipation

Constipation can be caused by either a structural abnormality or a problem with the way the bowel functions.

Some of the most common cause includes:

  • Changes to the person’s diet
  • Excessive amounts of dairy products
  • Too little water
  • Too little fiber in the diet
  • Narcotics
  • Decreased mobility
  • Delaying a bowel movement
  • Stress
  • Laxative/stool softener over use
  • Antacids
  • Depression
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Cancers of the colon
  • Hormonal imbalance


Pain and difficulty passing stool are often the most common symptoms. The child may also have a swollen, distended or firm abdomen. If the constipation remains untreated it can lead to vomiting.

What to do if you suspect your child may be constipated?:

All parents/caregivers suspecting their child may be constipated should seek the advice of a trained professional. Treatment will vary depending on the degree of constipation.


Most cases of constipation do not require extensive testing and are well managed by a primary care physician but should your child require further testing to determine the cause of the constipation you can often expect you physician to order:

  • Blood tests (especially if a hormonal balance is suspected)
  • Radiographic studies involving contrasts such as barium
  • Colonoscopy: a procedure where the physician uses a flexible tube with a camera to visualize the colon (large intestines) from the inside.

Managing Constipation

Most cases of constipation are easily managed with conservative treatment recommended by your child’s physician but general tips to follow include:

  • Ensuring your child receives adequate water/hydration
  • Increasing exercise
  • Maintaining a diet high in fiber

It is important to discuss the use of supplements, stool softeners and laxatives with your doctor before starting them. While they may provide an easy over the counter solution, it is important to remember that they are still medications and can interfere with other medications your child is taking.

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. It is the bulk that is not digested and as a result, passes through quicker and carries other things along.