Treatment for Constipation in Children

How do doctors treat constipation in children?

Parents or caretakers can most often treat a child at home. However, if a child does not respond to treatment, call the child’s doctor. Treatment for constipation in children may include changes in eating, diet, and nutrition; behavioral changes; and enemas and laxatives:

Changes in eating, diet, and nutrition

Changes in a child’s eating, diet, and nutrition can treat constipation. These changes include

  • drinking liquids throughout the day. A health care professional can recommend how much and what kind of liquids a child should drink.
  • eating more fruits and vegetables.
  • eating more fiber.

Read what a child should eat to help prevent and relieve constipation and foods to avoid if a child is constipated.

Behavioral changes

Changing a child’s patterns and behaviors about having bowel movements can help treat constipation. You can help the child by

  • encouraging older children to use the toilet shortly after meals to build a routine
  • using a reward system when children use the bathroom regularly
  • taking a break from potty training until the constipation stops

Enemas and laxatives

Some children need to have an enema or take medicines to treat constipation. Most often, a doctor will first recommend using an enema. Cleansing a child’s bowel with an enema flushes water or a laxative into his or her anus using a special squirt bottle, which helps the child pass stool.

A doctor may prescribe a laxative for a child to take by mouth until his or her bowel movements are normal. Laxatives clean out the bowel and help a child have a bowel movement. Once a child has better eating and bowel habits, the doctor will recommend stopping the laxative. If you stop giving a child the laxative too soon then the child could become constipated again. You should not give a child laxatives unless told to do so by a doctor.

How do doctors treat complications of constipation in children?

Doctors can treat or recommend how to treat complications of constipation in children. Fecal impaction, anal fissures, and rectal prolapse all have different treatments.

Fecal impaction

Talk with the child’s doctor for how to treat fecal impaction in a child under 2 years old.

For a child who is 2 years old or older, you can soften his or her fecal impaction with mineral oil that he or she takes by mouth or through an enema. A health care professional may then recommend that you bring the child in to the doctor’s office. The health care professional can break up and remove part of the hardened stool by inserting one or two gloved, lubricated fingers into the child’s anus.

Anal fissures

You can treat a child’s anal fissures by

  • making changes in his or her diet to prevent constipation
  • applying over-the-counter anesthetic cream to numb the area or relax his or her muscles
  • using stool softeners
  • having him or her take warm tub baths to soothe the area

Rectal prolapse

A child’s doctor may be able to treat rectal prolapse during an office visit by manually pushing the rectum back through the child’s anus. Helping a child prevent constipation is the best way to prevent rectal prolapse.

November 2014

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 through its clearinghouses and education programs 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.