“My child is very uncomfortable. What should I do if she is constipated?”
When your child experiences changes in her appetite or eating and drinking patterns, you can almost guarantee that there will be changes in her bowels and possibly result in constipation. What your child eats or does not eat affects what comes out. Dehydration, nausea, and / or vomiting can quickly cause an episode of constipation, which can be very uncomfortable and stressful. Constipation can even be frightening, especially for young children and infants. It is of the utmost importance to maintain fluids to prevent dehydration and constipation! If your child does get constipated, there are several things you can do to end the constipation and make her more comfortable. You should keep a stool softener on hand to prevent the unnecessary pain of having stool stuck inside that is hard to pass. There are also natural sources of fiber and laxatives that can be safely given at home or in the hospital. (Many people may suggest home or alternative remedies, which you should always clear with your health care team to see if they fit your child’s needs.) As with other concerns, it is a good idea to keep track of your child’s eating and drinking patterns and try to identify what foods may be causing constipation. It is always a good idea to ask your health care team for suggestions about prevention and treatments. For example, how many days can she go without a stool before you should be concerned and begin treating her for constipation? What is the first thing you should try, and then what is the next step if there is no relief? Which medications might be contributing to the problem or even directly responsible for the constipation?
Keeping track of your child’s bowels can be difficult, especially with older children. (However, it becomes increasingly important to keep track of when and how much your child goes as there could be indications that her condition is improving or worsening.)
One simple way to gather the information you need while respecting her privacy is to make a “helper” sheet that she fills out each time she toilets. You could use a smiley face, sad face, yes / no, sticker, check mark, etc. Your child can keep the sheet in the bathroom drawer, post it on the wall next to the toilet, or post it on the refrigerator. Let your child decide what she is comfortable with, as long as she is honest and remembers to keep the record. Keeping a helper sheet can give even young children some feelings of control and make logging the necessary information fun.
Treating and removing the stool once it gets stuck is a very uncomfortable and even painful process. It can happen as a result of “holding it”, being constipated for too long, or getting dehydrated (not drinking enough fluids). In the worst case, you may need to take your child to the hospital. However, with proper attention to nutrition and fluids and the use of medications to either prevent constipation or soften stool, constipation can almost always be avoided.