Constipation

Constipation is common and it affects people of all ages. You can usually treat it at home with simple changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Check if it's constipation

It’s likely to be constipation if:

  • you or your child haven't had a poo at least 3 times in a week
  • the poo is often difficult to push out and larger than usual
  • the poo is often dry, hard or lumpy

It's not unusual for a breastfeeding baby to go a week without having a poo.

You may also have a stomach ache and feel bloated or sick.

Things to look out for in babies and toddlers include:

What causes constipation

Constipation in adults has many possible causes. Sometimes there is no obvious reason.

The most common causes include:

  • not eating enough fibre – such as fruit, vegetables and cereals
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • not exercising or being less active
  • often ignoring the urge to go to the toilet
  • changing your diet or daily routine
  • stress, anxiety or depression
  • a side effect of medication

Constipation is also common during pregnancy and for 6 weeks after giving birth.

In much rarer cases, constipation may be caused by a medical condition.

How you can treat constipation yourself

Simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can help treat constipation. It's safe to try these simple measures when you're pregnant.

You may notice a difference within a few days. Sometimes it takes a few weeks before your symptoms improve.

Make changes to your diet

To make your poo softer and easier to pass:

Increase your activity

A daily walk or run can help you to poo more regularly.

Improve your toilet routine

Keep to a regular time and place and give yourself plenty of time to use the toilet. Don't delay if you feel the urge to poo.

To make it easier to poo, try resting your feet on a low stool while going to the toilet. If possible, raise your knees above your hips.

Babies and toddlers: what causes constipation

Constipation in babies and toddlers has many possible causes. Sometimes there is no obvious reason.

It usually happens when your child:

  • first starts taking formula or processed foods as a baby
  • is being potty trained as a toddler
  • has just started school

The most common causes include:

  • not eating enough fibre – such as fruit, vegetables and cereals
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • overfeeding – including giving babies too much milk
  • fear or anxiety about using the toilet – at home or at school
  • poor potty training – such as feeling pressured or being regularly interrupted

In much rarer cases, constipation in babies and toddlers may be caused by a medical condition.

Babies and toddlers: treating constipation

Simple changes to your child's diet and potty training can help treat constipation.

You may notice a difference within a few days. Sometimes it takes a few weeks before their symptoms improve.

Make changes to your child's diet

Give your baby extra water between their normal feeds if they haven't started to eat solid food yet. If you're using formula milk, don't add more water to the mixture.

Try gently moving your baby's legs in a bicycling motion or carefully massaging their tummy to help stimulate their bowels.

Give older children plenty of fluids and encourage them to eat fruit. Chop or purée it if it's easier for them to eat.

The best fruits for constipation include apples, grapes, pears and strawberries. Don't force your child to eat as this can make mealtimes stressful.

Helping your child with potty training

Some children feel anxious or stressed about using the toilet. This can cause them to hold in their poo and lead to constipation.

This usually happens during potty training or if their usual toilet routine has changed. For example, after moving house or starting nursery.

Give your child plenty of time to use the toilet while they are still learning. Encourage them when they do use the toilet. Some parents find a reward chart works.

A pharmacist can help with constipation (H2)

Speak to a pharmacist if diet and lifestyle changes aren't helping. They can suggest a suitable laxative. These are medicines that help you poo more regularly.

Most laxatives work within 3 days. They should only be used for a short time.

Laxatives are not recommended for children unless they are prescribed by a GP.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if you or your child:

  • are not improving with treatment
  • are regularly constipated and it lasts a long time (symptoms present for at least 12 weeks in the last  six months)
  • are bloated and it lasts a long time
  • have blood in your poo
  • have unexpectedly lost weight (or a child has not grown or gained weight)
  • feel very tired all the time

Speak to the GP before you stop taking any prescribed medication.

Complications of long-term constipation

Long-term constipation can lead to faecal impaction. This is where poo has built up in your rectum. The main symptom is diarrhoea after a long bout of constipation.

Faecal impaction may be treated with:

  • stronger laxatives – prescribed by a GP
  • a suppository – medicine you place in your bottom
  • a mini enema – where fluid is passed through your bottom, into your bowel
  • a doctor removing some of the poo

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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