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2/3/21 blog post

why is my child constipated?

how stress and changes in routine can cause issues with the gut

young girl with a stomach ache

Sometimes referred to as our second brain, our gut plays a role in influencing our moods, mental health and over all well-being. This is known as the mind-gut connection. When children are experiencing mental health issues, including stress and anxiety, it can manifest in gastrointestinal symptoms and complaints like constipation and abdominal pain. Knowing this, and the stressful impact COVID-19 has had on our children, it would be easy to assume that episodes of chronic constipation have increased since the pandemic began. “However, it has actually been the opposite for the most part,” says Jessica Alexander, gastroenterology physician assistant at Dayton Children’s. “A lot of the kiddos I follow have chronic constipation that is exacerbated by going to school and having limitations on toilet sitting. Since the pandemic began, a lot of children have had free reign on toilet sitting and thus their constipation has improved.” Although many children are experiencing improvements, it is also important to note that any change to a child’s routine can cause a flare in constipation. This is particularly relevant as children alternate between virtual and in-person learning at school.

There are several steps you can take at home to help alleviate constipation if your child begins to experience stomach pain and is unable to have a bowel movement.

  1. Encourage your child to sit on the toilet for a few minutes after meals. There is a natural reflex when food is eaten, the body wants to have a bowel movement. Just by sitting on the toilet, your body is encouraged to go.
  2. Increase water intake. Water helps stool move more easily through the intestines.
  3. Eat more fiber rich fruits and vegetables. Fiber helps clean out the intestines and moves the bowels along. If a child eats a diet full of fatty, sugary, or starchy foods, their bowels can slow down.
  4. Make sure your child gets enough exercise. Physical activity encourages the bowels to go into action.

If your child continues to suffer from constipation despite changing their diet and making lifestyle modifications, you should contact their pediatrician. The longer a child goes on experiencing constipation, the higher the chance they will develop encopresis. Encopresis, is when a child soils their underwear as a response to being constipated. The longer constipation goes on without a bowel movement, the stool begins to stretch the colon allowing room for liquid poop to leak past the hard stool build up. You child’s pediatrician will be able to help you develop a plan to improve your child’s constipation.

Likewise, you should consult with your child’s pediatrician or pediatric gastroenterologist if your child is experiencing concerning symptoms, which could include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, rectal bleeding, weight loss, loss of appetite or changes in behavior.

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Jessica Alexander, MPAS, PA-C, CAQ-Peds

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