How to Help With Irregularity Issues in Younger Children

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RULE OF THUMB: Relax. This is a common problem.

Dr. Howard says that there are two times in life when constipation goes with the territory:
● When babies change from breast milk to normal foods
● When children are about age four
The cause for the age four group? Listening to their parents! “That’s when parents sometimes ask kids to hold back, and they do it too well. The longer the child holds the stool in, the dryer, bigger and harder it gets and the end result can be painful – sometimes even tearing the inner lining of the anus on the way out. They’ll have a painful stool, which causes them to hold back, which causes a bigger stool, which causes a painful stool, which causes them to hold back….”

What to watch for: “ ‘The poop dance’ – often a child will stiffen up, they’ll walk funny and they’ll position in a funny way, just to try to hold things back. And crying with stooling is certainly a warning sign.”

First steps: Try adding phylum or ground flaxseed to meals to encourage softer stools. Milk of Magnesia can also do wonders.

Seek help: See a doctor if, after a week, the pain persists.


RULE OF THUMB: Don’t worry about definitions. Trust your judgment.

“The most common cause of diarrhea is something called toddler’s diarrhea,” Dr. Howard says. “Some kids will have diarrhea three to five times a day but otherwise their growth is completely healthy.”

What to watch for: Diarrhea is defined as too many stools or stools that are too loose compared to what is normal for the child. Look at both your child and what’s in the bowl. If you don’t like what you’re seeing in either place, chances are something is off.

First steps: Take note of hydration. Make sure your child is getting adequate amounts of liquid. Also consider the possibility they may have caught a bug. Either way, most kids will be fine in three to five days.

Seek help: If the diarrhea seems connected to something the child is eating or exposed to, consider seeing your doctor. “Kids with lactose intolerance present at this time,” says Dr. Jacobson. “The usual signs are abdominal pain and either loose or frequent bowel movements.”

Published March 2010

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