Symptoms & Causes of Constipation in Children

What are the symptoms of constipation in children?

Symptoms of constipation in children may include your child

  • having fewer than two bowel movements a week
  • passing stools that are hard, dry, or lumpy
  • having stools that are difficult or painful to pass
  • telling you that he or she feels that not all stool has passed
  • changing positions to avoid or delay having a bowel movement, including
    • standing on tiptoes and then rocking back on his or her heels
    • clenching his or her buttocks
    • doing unusual, dancelike movements
  • having a swollen abdomen, or bloating
  • having daytime or nighttime wetting
  • having stool in his or her underwear that looks like diarrhea

If your child avoids or delays having a bowel movement, he or she may develop a fecal impaction.

When should my child see a doctor?

Your child should see a doctor if his or her symptoms last for more than 2 weeks or do not go away with at-home treatment.

Take your child to a doctor right away if he or she has constipation and any of the following symptoms

  • bleeding from his or her rectum
  • blood in his or her stool
  • bloating
  • constant pain in his or her abdomen
  • vomiting
  • weight loss

What causes constipation in children?

Children most often get constipated from holding in their stool to avoid or delay having a bowel movement. When stool stays too long in the colon, the colon absorbs too much fluid from the stool. Then the stool becomes hard, dry, and difficult to pass. Learn more about the digestive system and how it works.

Your child may delay or avoid a bowel movement because he or she

  • feels stressed about potty training
  • feels embarrassed to use a public bathroom
  • does not want to interrupt playtime
  • fears having a painful or an unpleasant bowel movement
A toddler’s legs are seen as the child sits on a small potty.
Children most often get constipated from holding in their stool.

Certain medicines

Medicines and dietary supplements that can make constipation in children worse include

Certain health and nutrition problems

Certain health and nutrition problems can cause constipation in children

May 2018
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.