‘Can you phone Mrs X, her child can’t poo and she doesn’t know what to do’. This is a fairly common message I get at work. What is worse is that when I phone mum or dad to get the whole story I can usually hear a child screaming in pain in the background. It breaks my heart, it’s agony for them. It can catch all of us out; I’ve been there more than once with more than one of my children! So when it’s been a few days and your little one is sore and crying and can’t poo, what can you do?
- Start by reassuring them. It’s very frightening as the pain is intense and if it’s the first time it’s happened then they might quite literally be scared about what is happening.
- Don’t force them to sit for ages on the toilet or potty. Even though you know they need to go it’s better to let them hop on and off and feel as if they are in control.
- Try a warm bath. This can help them relax and make it easier to pass the stool. Sometimes they’ll poo in the bath but the relief of this outweighs the horror of cleaning it up.
- Give them a warm drink. There’s something called the gastro-colic reflex. There’s an automatic stimulation of the bowel when food or drink hit the stomach and a warm drink can again relax them.
- Pop on a bit of Vaseline around the anus, it can help the stool pass a bit more easily. The skin here may tear and bleed a little with straining, this is called a fissure and can be really painful.
- Give them some paracetamol. They aren’t unwell and don’t have a temperature but it will act as a painkiller.
- Nip to the chemist and chat to the pharmacist. If it’s been a few days and the poo is low down and hard then you can buy glycerin suppositories which you dampen with a little water and pop into your child’s bottom. They can be very effective and work quickly when you’ve reached crisis point.
- If the situation is building rather than at a crisis then making sure they have lots of fluids to drink is the most important thing. Dehydration is one of the commonest causes of constipation. Fruit smoothies are ideal, make them with tinned fruit such as peaches and pears for a tasty and effective laxative.
- Avoid large amounts of fibre. Whilst giving a bit of weetabix may help, large quantities of fibre can make the stool bulky and the more fibre you have the more fluid you need too.
- If things still really aren’t moving or your child is vomiting or unwell then it’s time to call your GP. Your Health Visitor can advise you too.
- When the bowel is finally clear the most important thing is to stop it building up again. Children get real fear of the pain so hold onto their poo and you can easily end up in the same situation again. Try to keep up the fluids and fruit/veg and encourage them to have a little sit on the toilet or potty everyday around bath time ‘just to see’ if anything happens. Plenty of exercise helps to avoid constipation too.
I hope this list is helpful. I do really feel for you if you’re in this situation. It’s not bad parenting; it happens. Feel free to share any of your top tips too.