Toddlers are, by nature, a finicky bunch. Parents can never be sure what to expect when a toddler's moods and whims can change on a dime.
Even something as basic as going to the bathroom can get tricky. While some toddlers go to the bathroom every day like clockwork, other kids can go two, three, or even more days without having any bowel movements.
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Seeing an empty toilet day after day might fill parents with panic, but usually constipation in toddlers isn't a sign of any serious disease. Most often it's caused by a problem that's easy to solve, like diet or ignoring the urge to go.
So how do you know if infrequent bathroom visits are normal for your child, or if you really have a constipated toddler? Read on to find out when toddler constipation is a problem, and how to treat it.
Is My Toddler Constipated?
The average toddler (if there is such a thing) makes a bowel movement once a day. Usually, a child who has a bowel movement fewer than three times a week (or less often than normal), and whose stools are hard and difficult to pass is constipated. Also, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, any child with stools that are large, hard, dry, and accompanied by painful bowel movements, soiling between bowel movements, or blood on the outside of the stool may have constipation.
Don't be worried if your child has a bout of constipation -- it's perfectly normal once in awhile. But if your toddler's constipation lasts for two weeks or more it's called chronic constipation, and you should see your pediatrician.
Your doctor may ask you to keep track of your child's bowel movements -- how often they occur, how big and hard they are, and if there is any blood in your toddler's stool. You should also look for other symptoms that can occur along with constipation, such as:
Loss of appetite
Crying or screaming during bowel movements
Avoiding the toilet (signs that your child is doing this include clenching the buttocks, crossing the legs, turning red, sweating, or crying)
Smears or bits of liquid stool in the diaper or underwear (soiling)
What Causes Toddler Constipation?
A variety of things can cause constipation in toddlers, from diet to medication. Here are a few of the most common causes:
Diet. The culprit in many cases of toddler constipation is a diet that's too heavy in processed foods and sweets, and too light in fiber (like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables). Not getting enough fluid can also lead to constipation, because it makes the stools harder. Any change in diet -- such as when your toddler transitions from breast milk or formula to cow's milk or starts eating new foods -- can also affect the stools.