Constipation in toddlers: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Updated May 16, 2022
Toddler constipation

Toddlerhood is full of transitions and new beginnings, including potty training, learning to use the word “no,” and starting preschool. It also comes with its fair share of challenges — like tantrums, picky eating, and constipation.

Constipation can be frustrating (for both of you!) and tricky to navigate, but we’re here to help! Keep reading for the common causes of constipation, ways to remedy it, and the best foods for keeping your little one regular.


IN THIS ARTICLE


It’s likely that your child’s first sign of constipation is going to come from their diaper — or rather, lack of dirty diapers. If you’re racking your brain to remember the last time your toddler pooped, that may be your first clue that number two is about to become a number one concern. 

Other symptoms to look out for include: 

  • Going several days between bowel movements

  • Having a decreased appetite

  • Complaining of stomach pain

  • Experiencing hard or painful stools

  • Straining during a bowel movement

If you think your child might be constipated, you can try some of the home remedies discussed below to get them some relief. As always, if you have concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s healthcare provider. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should call your pediatrician if your child doesn’t poop at least every 2 to 3 days or if they’re having pain while going to the bathroom. Other signs you should call the doctor include being constipated for more than 2 weeks, constipation interfering with normal activities, and/or consistently straining to have a bowel movement. 

Toddler holding stomach while lying down

The exact cause of constipation in toddlers can be hard to nail down. Oftentimes, it’s a combination of the factors listed below.  

Eating enough fiber helps prevent constipation by moving food through the digestive system. Toddlers need around 14 grams of fiber a day for optimal health — but like adults, many fall short of the recommendation.

Water is also needed to move food and waste through the body. Without it, dehydration — and consequently, constipation — can occur. 

While toddlers may love cheese crackers and chicken nuggets, these foods tend to be high in sodium and low in fiber, which may contribute to constipation as well. 

For some toddlers, drinking too much milk can cause or exacerbate constipation.

Any change in routine, such as a vacation, starting a new school, or potty training, can impact a toddler’s bathroom habits. This can be due to feelings of stress or discomfort from something that’s new or unknown.

Not getting enough exercise impacts digestion and makes constipation more likely. 

Certain illnesses, such as the flu or a stomach bug, can cause changes in appetite which may lead to constipation. 

Sometimes toddlers purposely hold their poop in order to avoid having to stop playing or if they are in an unfamiliar situation. This can also happen during potty training or if they’ve previously experienced pain while trying to poop. 

Some medications, including iron supplements, can contribute to or worsen constipation in toddlers. 

Toddler smiling while sitting on potty

Many times, constipation can be resolved and, in some part, even prevented with home remedies. Whether your little one is constipated or not, try to incorporate 1 or 2 of the following ideas to keep everything moving along!

Serve a fruit or veggie with each meal or snack if possible. Both are full of fiber and water, which help with optimal digestion. The “p” fruits — peaches, pears, plums, and prunes — are good for relieving constipation. 

Milk causes constipation in some kiddos, so limit it to 16 - 24 ounces a day. If your child is currently experiencing constipation, consider cutting back even further until it resolves.  

Drinking enough water throughout the day helps keep constipation at bay. Keep a water bottle close by during playtime as well as at meals and snacks. Water-rich produce such as berries, cucumbers, and citrus fruits are hydrating as well. 

Being physically active helps regulate digestion and move food through the body. Get outside to play or have a dance party in your living room!

Whole grains are another great way to increase fiber in your little one’s diet. Try toddler-friendly foods such as oatmeal, whole grain waffles, or whole grain pasta. 

Smoothies are well-loved by toddlers! What’s even better is that they are an easy way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and boost hydration. Add chia or flax seeds to up the fiber content without a noticeable difference in taste. 

Toddler constipation FAQ

Q: What are the best foods for constipation in toddlers?

A:

 If your toddler is constipated, offer whole fruits such as pears, peaches, plums, or berries. Make sure they’re staying hydrated by offering more water throughout the day. Avoid dairy foods, sugary foods, or highly-processed foods if possible.

Q: Does lactose intolerance cause constipation?

A:

 Typically lactose intolerance doesn’t cause constipation, but it’s possible. More likely though, lactose intolerance would cause diarrhea. Check with your pediatrician if you think your child may be lactose intolerant.

Q: How do I know if toddler constipation is due to more behavioral factors, like not wanting to use the potty?

A:

 Look for clues that your toddler is stressed or uncomfortable. For example, a change in routine or a big transition such as a new sibling or starting a new daycare can cause behavioral issues. Potty training can also cause some toddlers to try to control their bathroom habits, leading to constipation.

Q: Can I give my toddler prune juice for constipation?

A:

 Yes, you can give your toddler prune juice to help with constipation. It’s best diluted with water in a 1 to 1 ratio. Talk to your pediatrician about the appropriate amount for your child, but typically it’s recommended not to serve more than 4 ounces of juice a day. You can also increase whole fruits in your child’s diet to help with constipation.

Q: How many times a day should my toddler be pooping?

A:

 Every toddler is different, but most toddlers poop between 1 and 3 times a day. Since there is so much variation in what is considered normal, try looking at how consistent they are with going rather than frequency.

Q: How can I prevent constipation in my toddler?

A:

 Constipation in toddlers is fairly common and can occur for a variety of reasons. While it may not be entirely preventable, you can reduce the chance of it happening by offering foods with fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) at most meals as well as making sure they stay hydrated throughout the day. Additionally, provide lots of time for them to move around and be physically active.

Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.