Treatment

Depending on the circumstances, your child's doctor may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter fiber supplements or stool softeners. If your child doesn't get a lot of fiber in his or her diet, adding an over-the-counter fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or Citrucel, might help. However, your child needs to drink at least 32 ounces (about 1 liter) of water daily for these products to work well. Check with your child's doctor to find out the right dose for your child's age and weight.

    Glycerin suppositories can be used to soften the stool in children who can't swallow pills. Talk with your child's doctor about the right way to use these products.

  • A laxative or enema. If an accumulation of fecal material creates a blockage, your child's doctor may suggest a laxative or enema to help remove the blockage. Examples include polyethylene glycol (Glycolax, MiraLax, others) and mineral oil.

    Never give your child a laxative or enema without the doctor's OK and instructions on the proper dose.

  • Hospital enema. Sometimes a child may be so severely constipated that he or she needs to be hospitalized for a short time to be given a stronger enema that will clear the bowels. This is called disimpaction.

Alternative medicine

In addition to changes in diet and routine, various alternative approaches may help relieve constipation in children:

  • Massage. Gently massaging your child's abdomen may relax the muscles that support the bladder and intestines, helping to promote bowel activity.
  • Acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medicine involves the insertion and manipulation of fine needles into various parts of the body. The therapy may help if your child has constipation-related abdominal pain.