children's health Food intolerances functional testing Gut health gut microbiome

What is causing my child’s constipation?


Severe constipation is one of the main reasons parents attend with their child. The likelihood of ending up in A and E with bowel trouble is even higher if you have a child with autism. With the possibility of anal tears, compaction and severe discomfort this is problem that needs to be tackled at the very first sign of occurrence. Laxatives are given when the situation becomes urgent but long-term use of laxatives can lead to over-reliance and a ‘lazy’ bowel.

Is it behavioural?

Often parents are told that there is a behavioural element to the development of constipation. That a child is withholding a bowel movement which leads to the development of dry, difficult to pass stools. Although this is a possibility there are other reasons a child might develop constipation and these should be considered.

  1. Not enough water. 

Dehydration is common reason for sluggish bowel movements. Lots of children will chose ‘juice’ or milk over water and can become slightly dehydrated over time. Water should be offered as the first drink of the day, a slightly warmed cup of water will subtly introduce water into the colon and gently rehydrate any stool that is stored there. For a little extra help you can place a prune in a glass of warm water and leave it to soak. This water can be given to your child first thing to help encourage daily bowel movements. 

2. Food intolerances

A common reason for ongoing constipation are undiscovered food sensitivities. A common suspect for chronic constipation is dairy.  A carefully crafted elimination trial may be needed. In children over two years of age you can run a simple pin prick test to find out if there are any foods that might be causing constipation. 3.

3. Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium is needed to maintain appropriate movement in the smooth muscle lining the large intestine. One of the reasons bowels become sluggish is a lack of magnesium. Epsom salt baths and magnesium oil spray are good, non-invasive ways of supplementing additional magnesium. You can also encourage them to eat nut butters and beans to improve levels. 

4. Digestive issues

A big factor in developing good bowel movements is for digestion to be working well. The body releases stomach acid, digestive enzymes and bile in response to eating. The whole digestive process is affected by the presence or lack of these substances. In some children these processes may not be working as well as they should and can make bowel movements sluggish. Sometimes the use of antacids to prevent reflux in babies can affect these digestive secretions and results in constipation. 

5. Disrupted gut flora

When the bacteria that inhabit our guts are disrupted constipation can develop. Sometimes our gut flora are disrupted from birth when when we inherit poor flora from our mothers, are born by C-section or through using antibiotics. To find out if your child’s gut flora have been affected you can run a comprehensive stool test. Probiotics can help to restore good gut flora. 


    Sarah is a clinical nutritionist specialising in mental wellbeing and the gut-brain connection.

    Recommended Articles