Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
More advice for kids with constipation — Good Parenting
Dear Dr. Debbie,
I read your advice regarding a 1-year-old with constipation
but need some help for my 3-year-old. “Glenna” potty-trained just fine by 2 ½ but in the past couple of weeks has had terrible constipation. The doctor put her on a liquid stool softener which lately she fights to take.
Despite these daily ordeals, she’s still happy most of the time.
Hoping This Will Pass
You may be reassured to know that you and your daughter are not alone. According to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center constipation is on the increase for children past toilet training age.
Besides specific foods to soften the stool, a relaxed attitude about toileting is very important. Those muscles can’t release if they’re tense! Use sympathetic words — “I’m sorry your belly hurts. We’re going to try different foods to help the poop come out more easily.” “It hurts when there’s poop ready to come out and it won’t come out.” “We can try again later. It’s okay.”
A cup of warm water or a hot drink — cocoa, tea, or soup — can help soften what’s already been digested further down her system. Stool softening medicine can be combined with fruit juice to disguise the taste. Mineral oil in applesauce is another remedy.
Sometimes you can use your finger to help work out the very dried-out poop closest to the anus. Mineral oil can help. But of course, Glenna has to agree that you’re on her side helping her, or she won’t do her part to cooperate with this.
Here are many helpful tips from parents who have endured constipation with their kids.
If the problem gets worse and she has impacted stool, she will experience what looks like diarrhea. Normally, the rectum absorbs water from the waste before it is passed. But if poop stays too long in the rectum, moisture continues to be absorbed. The walls of the rectum stretch as the poop builds up and now there is a mass much too wide (and hard) to pass. Looser waste, less digested, higher up in the colon, will dribble around the harder stool that is stuck in the rectum. This site from the United Kingdom has a good set of graphics to explain what’s happening.
I’ve known two little girls who had “dilated rectum” at age 5 and wore a disposable diaper to school. Eventually with diet efforts and family counseling things got back to normal.
You and Glenna need to work together to work this out.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com