Common Concerns

Immediate Relief for Constipation

Constipation is the passage of infrequent, hard stools. It can cause stomachaches, abdominal cramps, irritability, poor appetite, decreased activity level, pain, and sometimes bleeding with passage of stool. Children who have recurrent problems with constipation often learn to hold the stool in because they fear the pain of having a bowel movement. The following information is targeted at infants and children who are at least four months old.

Anyone can become constipated. There may be a tendency for the colon to move more slowly than is desirable. Dietary factors are common. Illness, change in activity level, and change in daily routine can lead to constipation.

Immediate relief for constipation can be accomplished with rectal medications such as suppositories or enemas. Oral laxatives can also provide relief within 12 to 24 hours. The best medication is determined by the child’s age and symptoms. All of the medications described here are available in a pharmacy without a prescription. Medications such as suppositories, enemas, and laxatives are designed for short-term relief. They should be used infrequently. Chronic constipation is managed in a different way.

Rectal medications:
A glycerin suppository is appropriate for the infant, toddler, and young child. Dip one end of the suppository into an ointment such as petroleum jelly. Then insert the suppository fully into the child’s rectum. Usually a bowel movement is produced within a few minutes. The suppository can be repeated if necessary. Suppositories should be used only occasionally to stimulate a bowel movement.

For a school age child use ½ or 1 bisacodyl suppository, following the instructions above. A sodium-phosphate enema is another option. Use an adult-sized enema for children 12 and older, and a pediatric-sized enema for younger children. Instructions for use come with the enema. Suppositories and enemas are not intended for regular use.

Oral medications:
Senna or sennoside tablets can be used for children who can swallow pills. Give 1–3 tablets by mouth each night for up to three nights, until the bowel is emptied. ½ to 1 small square of “chocolated laxative” is another option for school age children. The oral medications may take several days to produce results, and can sometimes cause temporary diarrhea. If your child needs more immediate relief you should consider using a rectal medication described above. The stimulant laxatives described here are meant for short-term use only.

Once the episode is resolved you should do everything you can to keep your child’s bowel movements soft and regular. Ideally your child should have 1 or 2 soft stools daily. Increasing fluids, cutting back on dairy products, and increasing fiber should help. Encourage corn, peas, dried fruits, grapes, sweet potato, baked beans, higher fiber cereal, oatmeal, and high fiber cereal bars. Fiber powder can be added to your child’s food. The number of grams of fiber per day should equal your child’s age plus five. Occasionally add fruit juice (apple, pear, prune) up to 8 oz per day. Encourage your potty-trained child to sit on the toilet after meals. Infants who are not eating solid foods may benefit from 1 teaspoon of dark corn syrup mixed with breast milk or formula once or twice a day.

If your child continues to have problems with constipation despite your efforts, please make an appointment or bring it to our attention during regular business hours.


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