Normal bowel patterns vary greatly from child to child– from twice a day to once or twice a week. A child is constipated when he or she has excessively hard bowel movements that cause pain or are accompanied by mucus or blood. A child who has infrequent bowel movements is not constipated if the stool appears normal when passed.

When the stool is hard it usually means the child is not drinking enough fluid to keep up with the body’s needs or does not have enough roughage (fiber) in the diet. If a child is constipated, be sure to discuss the problem with the family so that together you can decide what to do.

To help reduce the hardness of stools:

Begin by giving the child more fluids to drink. Temporarily increase juices and have the child drink at least one liter (four medium glasses) of fluid each day, divided into frequent, small amounts.

  • Try to have the child eat fruits such as apricots, pears, peaches, and prunes—fresh, dried, or canned in their own juice—twice a day.
  • Give the child high-fiber cereals, such as bran. These hold fluid in the intestine to keep stools soft.
  • Feed the child leafy, green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, greens, and green and yellow beans. These provide roughage.
  • Limit binding foods such as bananas, apples, and high-fat dairy products.
  • If these measures don’t work, consult a doctor.