What is constipation?
Constipation is generally defined as having difficulty, delay or pain in passing a stool and the stool doesn’t have to be hard for this to happen. It’s quite common during childhood.
How often should children be passing solids?
Every child is different but the average range for a child is said to be no more than 3 stools per day to no less than 3 stools per week.
What causes constipation?
In 90-95% of cases there is no underlying cause to worry about. You may have heard of the term ‘functional’ or ‘idiopathic’ constipation. This simply means there is no identifiable cause. However, if you have any concerns you should always consult your GP or paediatrician.
What about soiling?
Soiling is when your child passes a stool direct into their underwear. This is entirely involuntary and outside of the child's control. In 95% of cases it’s the result of long term constipation that has gone undetected for several months but once dealt with, the problem usually goes away.
Can soiling be due to behavioural problems?
Parents often worry that soiling may be down to 'laziness' or 'naughtiness'. However, this is not the case and children should never be made to feel guilty or ashamed of soiling. Involuntary soiling can in fact be the cause of behavioural problems as a result of feelings of embarrassment, fear of being found out and even anger. These behavioural problems often significantly improve following successful treatment.
How can soiling be treated?
You should always ask your GP or paediatrician about the appropriate treatment for your child, but the first thing they will do is look to treat the constipation.
This normally involves 2 phases: the first phase being the evacuation of the retained stool which usually involves taking oral laxatives specifically for children. They may also be used in the second or ‘maintenance’ phase to prevent further blockage.
Diet and fluid intake may also need to be adjusted particularly during the maintenance phase, but just adding more fibre to the diet has not been found to be effective.
Again, your GP or nurse is best placed to advise on the right dietary requirements for your child and also on how to teach good toilet habits to ensure progress in the future.