Health Library

Categories > Digestive Disorders > Other digestive ailments and disorders

Rites of passage
Constipation causes

Constipation clues
Constipation clues

Large, hard stools—or the lack of stools altogether—aren’t the only signs of constipation. Other signs to watch for include:

  • Bright red blood on the toilet tissue when your child wipes. This could be a sign of hemorrhoids, swollen veins around the anus or lower rectum, which can occur from straining.
  • Stomach pain or bloating. This is a sign the bowels are filling with stool.
  • Crying or screaming during bowel movements. Hard, dry stool is painful to pass.

Few kids escape childhood without at least a couple bouts of constipation—defined as three or fewer bowel movements in a week; stools that are hard, dry and unusually large; or stools that are difficult to pass. The good news: It’s usually a short-lived problem.

Constipation causes

Several factors lead to constipation, including:

  • Diet. A lack of fiber is a major contributor to constipation. Fiber-rich foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain breads add bulk and water to the stool, helping to soften it. Boost your child’s fiber intake with simple switches. For example, try whole-wheat pasta and fruit juice that’s fortified with fiber.
  • Fluids. The body needs fluids to keep stools moving. Increase your child’s fluid intake but don’t load up on milk products because these can exacerbate constipation.
  • Drugs. Some medications like antacids and cough syrups with codeine can cause constipation. Talk to your doctor about alternatives or other countermeasures.
  • Developmental milestones. Kids often become constipated when they wean from breast milk or formula to cow’s milk and start eating solid foods. Constipation commonly occurs when children begin toilet training. Some kids are fearful of using a potty, so they withhold stool. If your child isn’t emotionally ready for toilet training, try again in a few months. Others may suffer constipation when they have to use public restrooms at school.
  • Anatomy. Some kids have intestinal abnormalities that can cause constipation, although this is rare. Your doctor can determine whether such an abnormality exists.