ERIC’s helpline advisor Alina is four weeks into potty training her daughter Nella. After mastering using the potty away from home in part 2 of the potty training diaries, in Part 3 Nella develops stool withholding behaviour. 

Tiny poo in potty
A sign of constipation is poo like rabbit droppings

We’re four weeks in to potty training now and after cracking the wee stand-off situation, a much bigger hurdle has loomed…Nella has stopped pooing regularly.

No poo = alarm bells

When she first went nappy free in the day, Nella carried on doing her daily poo in the nappy she’d been wearing to bed for the first week (pooing first thing in the morning just after waking had been her routine for a while). But then a couple of days went by without that morning poo and a little alarm bell began to ring.

She hadn’t been poorly and was eating and drinking well as usual – there hadn’t been any other changes in her routine other than moving to pants. I guessed that Nella had worked out she didn’t want to use her nappy to poo in first thing but wasn’t too keen on doing it in the potty or toilet either.

Stool withholding

Potty training is a time when lots of children start to withhold their poo. It can be hard to work out why it starts but it may be because they feel nervous of losing part of themselves or just that they’ve never really had to deal with poo before when they’ve laid back as a baby and had their nappy changed.

Pushing out a poo is also a much more active process than letting go of a wee, which may also explain why lots of children do one fine but not the other. Some children may already be constipated by the time they start to learn to use the potty so find it hard to empty their bowel and hold on because they are scared it will hurt.

Waiting for the poo to come

Nella had a bit of poo in her pants one day and got quite upset by it so I figured we just needed to stay as relaxed as possible, stick to a consistent toilet routine and the poo would come at some point.

On that first day I suggested she sit on her potty around half an hour after breakfast but she got really upset and jumped up shouting “No! I don’t need a poo!” We tried again after lunch – I let her sit watching a cartoon on my phone – but still no poo.

As the afternoon wore on and she got tired, I could see she was struggling and visibly uncomfortable. She got more and more upset wanting to be cuddled and holding on to her bottom looking really distressed. I lost count of the number of times she would shout “I need a poo” so we’d rush to the potty and she’d sit down only to jump straight off again insisting that no she didn’t need to go and so the cycle went on.

I found it so hard seeing her that distressed and no matter how much reassurance I gave that she’d feel better if she let her poo out I just couldn’t convince her and we got to bedtime without a poo.

Still no poo…

The next day followed the same pattern but she was more distraught and wouldn’t leave my side apart from the countless hops on and off the potty. We tried more cartoons, reading, blowing bubbles and a recorder on the occasions when she would sit for more than a few seconds.

By the evening I’d started offering her mini marshmallows and raisins in a little bowl (plus the cartoons!) just to get her to sit still on the potty. I also let her go pant free thinking that might help and at least it was quicker for her to sit and squat when the feeling came. I stopped talking about poo to her and tried to distract her when she got upset as talking about it seemed to make her more stressed.

Success!

After leaving her to it for a while as we tidied away after her tea, Nella surprised us all with the most joyful shout of “I did it mummy, I’ve done a poo!” Her older brothers and I rushed into the room to be met by the smallest blob of poo in the bottom of the potty and Nella with the biggest grin looking so thrilled with herself.

We made such a fuss of her clapping and cheering, taking the poo next door to my mum and dad so they could congratulate her… all the while with me making a mental note to call the doctor on Monday morning to talk about getting some laxatives.

Find out how we tackled Nella's poo withholding in the last installment of the potty training diaries...