Constipation in children is quite common these days for a variety of reasons. Children who experience constipation even just one time can be fearful of pooping and choose to withhold their poop. This causes them to be more at risk for constipation, which can lead to additional complications like chronic constipation. Chronic constipation may then lead to other complications, or it could signal an underlying condition.

So, what’s a parent to do? We asked Pediatric Pelvic Floor OT, Quiara Smith, the expert that leads our Potty Training classes how to tell if your child is constipated, what to do if they are, and when it’s time to call their healthcare provider. Check out her answers below: 

Q: How can parent tell if their child is truly constipated? 
A: Parents often wonder if their child is "really" constipated or if it's a "normal" part of childhood. My answer is we have to look at science and medicine to help us figure out if our child really has constipation that needs attention. To do that, we first need to look at what the signs of constipation are.  

According to the Mayo Clinic signs of constipation in children may include:

  • Less than three bowel movements a week
  • Bowel movements that are hard, dry, and difficult to pass
  • Pain while having a bowel movement
  • Stomach pain
  • Traces of liquid or pasty stool in your child's underwear — a sign that stool is backed up in the rectum
  • Blood on the surface of hard stool


Q: When should parents seek medical care for their child when it comes to constipation? 
A: If your child is experiencing constipation, observed by the signs mentioned above, that lasts longer than two weeks or is accompanied by any of the below, they need to be seen by their medical provider right away:

  • Fever
  • Not eating
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Pain during bowel movements
  • Part of the intestine comes out of the anus (rectal prolapse)    

Q: How can parents help prevent constipation in their children? 
A: Prevention is key when trying to avoid constipation in our children. There are many things that we as parents can do to prevent constipation in our children, but my top 3 tips for preventing constipation in children as a pediatric pelvic health specialist are:

  • Adequate water intake. According to the Children's Hospital of Orange County:  Children should drink the number of 8-ounce cups of water equal to their age, with a minimum of 64 ounces of water for children over the age of 8. These amounts do not include other beverages they may consume in a day such as milk and juice.
  • Be consistent with toileting routines/expectations. When we have clear routines around potty training and toileting tasks, it allows our children to feel safe and secure in what is expected of them when it comes to peeing and pooping across various environments like our home, school, or out in the community. 
  • Get them moving with physical activity. According to Stanford Children's Health, Physical activity promotes the movement of the intestines to push food forward as it is digested. Getting your child to move around throughout the day even for a few minutes of dancing to their favorite song, playing eye spy on a neighborhood walk, or even helping to carry shopping bags from the car into the house, all count towards physical activity that can decrease their chances of getting constipated.