During potty training, one of the biggest areas of frustration for many parents is poo. On the floor. In the pants. Or not at all. We're here today to talk about constipation, a common issue that crops up during potty training for many kids. For some, it is temporary. For others, it becomes a chronic issue that should be addressed early.
How Do I Know if My Child is Constipated?
There is no “normal” when it comes to a toddler’s bowel movements, but you will know what is normal and not normal for your child. Constipation is apparent when stools are hard, dry, large or pellet-like in shape. For some, they can be difficult to pass. For others, liquid stool can also be a sign of constipation, as it slips past a blockage.
If your child is constipated, they may be exhibiting:
A hard belly
Loss of appetite
Discomfort, crying, irritability or pain before or during a stool (usually this will come and go in waves)
Dry, hard, pellet-like stools or large masses of poo in one go that can have large lumps in them and that are difficult to pass (tennis ball size)
Three or less bowel movements per week (though children with daily bowel movements can still be constipated)
For some children, constipation becomes chronic and they develop an internal blockage. This blockage can not only cause discomfort but can impact the functioning of the bladder, making children have to pee more frequently or lead to bladder accidents. Chronic constipation will likely need the assistance of a doctor in order to help the bowels empty and stools to return to normal consistency, allowing the colon to return to its original (un-stretched) shape. As a parent, you can still help, addressing any issues that may be causing your child to withhold their stools.
How to Deal With Constipation
For some children, having a bowel movement is very scary. Some children will actually develop separation anxiety, not realizing that their bowel movement is a waste product that they need to let go of, instead perceive it as part of the body that is being flushed away down the toilet. For others, it's a catch 22: any original fear that led to constipation led to pain. Now, it's pain from difficult bowel movements that further encourages a child to hold on.
The most important step in potty training & constipation is to lay a STRONG FOUNDATION, which we talk about in our Potty Training eGuide. If your child is constipated at any point in potty training, or even if it appears weeks or months later, you first want to relieve the physical symptoms:
A warm bath with some bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) thrown in can help ease the tummy, as can massage.
Warm water mixed with prune, pear or apple juice (1 tablespoon of juice to 50 mls of water) between meals temporarily can help.
Encourage more fluid intake, with bottles and cups always at hand (this is very important during potty training)
Offer foods high in fibre to make it more difficult to withhold poo
Stay patient! When a child is constipated, our reaction is just as much a part of the problem, particularly if it leads to accidents
There are many ways we as parents can help. Try:
Holding their hands while encouraging them to go
Offering the opportunity to go in privacy (for some kids this is key)
Using the potty (not the toilet, which can cause fear) and not adding to the fear through our own frustrations or anxieties.
If your child is constipated, be very forgiving with accidents. The goal first is to ensure your child has pain-free and stress-free bowel movements, then focus on redirecting them where the bowel movements should be. That aside, do not revert to the diaper, as a diaper can then become a psychological crutch that becomes difficult to get rid of.
Every child deals with constipation in a different way and it can be confusing to know where to start. If you are in the middle of potty training, it can often derail your progress. But, fret not! We're here to help! We have many tips to deal with constipation, both physically and emotionally, that can help you along. If you suspect your child is constipated, we suggest consulting with your doctor, who can help the process, occasionally prescribing medications.
For potty training support and our full step-by-step instructions, download our Potty Training eGuide.