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.


Symptoms

It's likely to be constipation if:

  • you or your child have not 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

But 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:

  • a lack of energy
  • being irritable, angry or unhappy
  • soiling their clothes
  • being less hungry than usual
  • a firm tummy

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Constipation in adults

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

The most common causes include:

  • not eating enough fibre – such as fruit, vegetables and cereals
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • not moving enough and spending long periods sitting or lying in bed
  • being less active and not exercising
  • often ignoring the urge to go to the toilet
  • changing your diet or daily routine
  • a side effect of medicine
  • stress, anxiety or depression

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.

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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:

Improve your toilet routine

Keep to a regular time and place and give yourself plenty of time to use the toilet.

Do not 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.

Increase your activity

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

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Babies and toddlers: what causes constipation

Constipation in babies and toddlers has many possible causes. Sometimes there's 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
  • 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.

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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

If your baby is formula-fed, you can offer them extra drinks of water between feeds.

Do not add more water to formula feeds.

Breastfed babies rarely get constipated. They do not need anything but breast milk for the first 6 months.

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.

Do not force your child to eat as this can make mealtimes stressful.

Find out what to feed young children.

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're still learning.

Encourage them when they do use the toilet. Some parents find a reward chart works.

Try these potty training tips.

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How a pharmacist can help

Speak to a pharmacist if diet and lifestyle changes are not 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're prescribed by a GP.

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When to get medical help

See a GP if you or your child:

  • are not improving with treatment
  • are regularly constipated and it lasts a long time
  • 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 medicine.

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