When is Toddler Constipation an Emergency?

Constipation in children usually isn’t serious. Constipation in children is a medical issue that affects 25 to 30% of young children, meaning nearly one in three children will struggle with this condition.

The last thing any parent wants to do when their child is not feeling well due to constipation is to make them wait for relief. There are several factors that lead to children’s constipation, including diet, medications, exercise habits, bathroom routine, life stressors, hydration, and stool withholding. The most frequent cause of constipation in children is “functional”, meaning that it is not caused by a medical condition.

Note: It’s always important to check with your child’s pediatrician if you feel your toddler’s constipation is serious (see below), and to determine the right course of action for your constipated child.

Symptoms of Constipation in Toddlers & Children

If your child isn’t feeling well, consider constipation as a potential cause. It’s important to know what to look for to determine if your child is constipated, especially in younger children who may not have the language to explain how they feel. Common symptoms of children’s constipation include:

●    Stools that are hard, dry, lumpy and/or difficult to pass

●    Stools that look like pebbly rabbit droppings

●    Stool withholding – stool withholding typically occurs when a child has once passed a large, hard, or painful stool and is subsequently reluctant to use the bathroom as a result. Signs of stool withholding include making faces, crossing legs, and twisting the body

●    Stomach pain (if your toddler isn’t speaking yet, look for signs of stomach pain, including holding an arm or hand over their abdomen or lower belly)

●    Unusually large stool

●    Stool accidents and stool leakage (a sign that stool is backed up in the rectum)

●    Frequently occurring urinary tract infections

●    Toddlers who routinely strain to pass hard stools

●    Poor appetite

●    Cranky behavior

When Your Toddler’s Constipation May Be More Serious

Chronic constipation may signal underlying conditions or lead to complications. Contact your pediatrician immediately if your child’s constipation lasts longer than two weeks is accompanied with:

·        Fever

·        Abdominal pain

·        Weight loss or not eating

·        Abdominal distention (bloating)

·        Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool

·        Pain during bowel movements

·        Part of the intestine coming out of the anus (rectal prolapse)

It’s important for the pediatrician to evaluate your child in person in these instances, to examine the nature of your child’s constipation and determine if fecal impaction is present.

Common Doctor Recommendations for Constipation

After evaluating your child, and considering any medications your child is taking that may be a contributing factor, your pediatrician will likely recommend a laxative to help relieve constipation.

It’s important to discuss with your child’s pediatrician any factors that may be contributing to your child’s constipation, including:

●    Changes in routine (such as starting school, camp, or daycare)

●    Dietary changes (such as incorporating more solid food into their diet)

In addition, share your child’s current bathroom habits to see if small changes in routines or habits could make a big difference.

Constipation Remedies You Can Do at Home

There are simple constipation remedies you can try to help relieve your child’s constipation, and habits you can create to help prevent bouts of constipation in the future.

Abdominal Massage

Gently massaging the lower abdomen, as well as having your toddler lie on his or her back while you move their legs in a bicycling motion, can help get stool moving!

Create a Routine

Life with a toddler is busy, but working in a regular time to use the bathroom each day promotes regular bowel movements (and helps with potty training!). First thing in the morning, as well as about 20 minutes after a meal, are good times to try. It’s okay if your toddler doesn’t go each time, the idea is to have a predictable bathroom time every day.

Add Fiber

Fiber is important not only for relieving constipation, but also for preventing it. The amount of fiber that is appropriate depends on the child’s age and gender, so be sure to check with your pediatrician to determine the right amount for your child.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4574579/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation-in-children/symptoms-causes/syc-20354242
  3. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation-children/treatment
  4. https://www.drugs.com/health-guide/constipation-and-impaction.html

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