Constipation in Infants and Children

Constipation is defined as the infrequent passage of firm or hard stool. An infant should have multiple bowel movements per day. As children grow older the frequency should decrease to no less than once per day and the consistency should be soft and effortless. Straining, pain with passing stool, pebble like stool, or streaks of blood along the stool are signs of constipation at any age.

Constipation in pediatric patient is estimated to be between 5% and 10%. Constipation is the second most referred condition in pediatric, accounting for up to 25% of all visits. The rate for constipation in the first year of life is 2.9%, and in the second year of life, the rate is 10.1%.

Functional constipation is the most common type of constipation in any age group, and is caused by painful bowel movements that prompt the child to voluntarily withhold stool. To avoid painful bowel movement the infant will contract the anal sphincter to avoid passing stool, hence constipation and in many cases abdominal pain.

So what can cause constipation in children?

1. Changing from breast milk to formula.
2. Food allergies
3. Dehydration
4. Stress from caregiver
5. Intestinal infections such as parasites
6. Distress
7. Spinal misalignment

While acute constipation may be just uncomfortable, chronic constipation may cause complications to a child’s health. Some of these may include; rectal prolapse, anal fissures and stool withholding.

So what can you do to prevent or remedy constipation?

To prevent chronic constipation from occurring in children it is important that we educate families of a proper diet. This may include a high fiber diet which helps infants and children form soft, bulky stools.
Food such as:

1. Beans
2. Whole grain
3. Fruits – apples and ripe soft pears
4. Vegetables
5. Prunes
6. Raisins
7. Rhubarb
8. Blackstrap molasses
9. Sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds

Other things that you should do with your infant/child:

1. Get their spine checked by a Chiropractor (explained further below)
2. Exercise and stretch them

3. Massage them – massage to encourage bowel movements

4. Give them plenty of fluids

However even if we change everything in the diet and do everything else possible, wanted changes may not be observed. It may also be beneficial to check the child’s spine for misalignments that are creating interference and dysfunction in the nervous system thus not allowing the body to work properly and efficiently. A study was done on pediatric patients below the age of 2 with chronic constipation, defined by bowel movements of once per week. With changes to their diet (e.g fiber and fluid intake) as well as medical advice no noticeable change were observed. However, under Chiropractic care bowel movements increased in frequency to 1 – 2 days without straining or pain (Meyer, 1994).

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