Constipation in children
Constipation is a very common problem for children. For most children, constipation means passing hard poo (faeces, stools or motions), with difficulty, less often than normal.
Regular soiling (often mistaken for runny diarrhoea) may indicate that a child has bad constipation with impaction (a blockage of faeces). Where no particular disease or illness is the cause of the constipation, it is called idiopathic constipation. It is important that constipation be recognised early to prevent it from becoming a long-term (chronic) problem.
Note: for information about constipation in adults, head to our Constipation in Adults page.
Your child's bowels – what is normal?
Parents often get very worried about their child's bowel habit. This anxiety can start when the child is a baby, with concern over the number of dirty nappies. The main thing to realise is that every child is different.
Normal can vary quite a bit. It is a change in what is normal for your child, that suggests a problem.
Babies will open their bowels anything from several times per day, to once every few days. The frequency of bowel movements is not very important. What is important is that the poo (faeces, stools or motions) is soft and easily passed.
Breast-fed babies tend to pass runnier, mustard yellow-coloured stools. This is because breast milk is better digested than infant formula (bottle feeds). Newborn breast-fed babies may open their bowels with every feed. However, it is also normal for a breast-fed baby to go up to a week without a bowel movement.
Bottle-fed babies often need to open their bowels daily, as the stools are bulkier. Bottle-fed baby stools smell worse (more like an adult's).
What happens as babies are weaned?
It is not uncommon for your baby's stools to vary in colour and consistency from day to day. Any prolonged change to harder, less frequent stools might mean constipation.
As babies are weaned to solid foods, their stools will change in colour and smell. The frequency may again change. Generally, the stools become thicker, darker and a lot more smelly. You will notice that your baby's stools will alter depending upon what you have fed him or her. Some high-fibre foods, such as raisins, may even pass through your baby's bowels virtually unchanged, appearing in the nappy at the next change.
As your baby grows up, into a toddler and then a young child, you may see further changes in their stool frequency and consistency, often dependent on what they are eating.