How often should children poo?

Children should pass some soft poo every day, or at least every other day. Pooing fewer than 4 times a week means that poo is in a traffic jam. Pooing more than 3 times a day however can also be a sign that the bowel is full, and is leaking out a bit at a time.

If a child has been constipated before, they should aim to poo once a day. Our advice for children with constipation has lots of information about how the bowel should work and what different types of poo mean. 

How common is childhood constipation? 

Constipation affects 1 in 3 children, even babies including those who are breastfed. It is particularly common in children under 5 years old. 

Will children just grow out of constipation as they get older?

No! This is a myth sadly. If left untreated or under treated, constipation doesn’t go away or get better on its own.
Children who have been constipated are likely to get blocked up again in the future and may still need the help of laxatives as adults.

It's important to keep a close eye on how often your child does a poo and what it looks like. This helps to pick up on the early warning signs of constipation and get treatment started if needed. Our advice for children with constipation explains why and how constipation needs to be treated. 

Is constipation caused by a bad diet?

Constipation isn’t always linked to diet. It can be a result of a child passing a painful poo and then withholding their stools through fear of a repeat experience, or not drinking enough fluids. An underlying physical reason and some medications can also cause constipation. In some cases, however, children become constipated without any known cause (this is known as 'idiopathic constipation').

Constipation is a treatable medical condition, but encouraging your child to have a well-balanced, fibre-rich diet, get plenty of exercise and drink well (6-8 glasses of water-based fluid a day) will all help to keep poo soft and on the move. 

My 6 year-old daughter regularly has small bits of dry poo in her pants. Is she just being lazy?

It sounds like your daughter is constipated and the dry bits of poo in her pants are ‘overflow’ poo which have broken away from a blockage of hard poo in her rectum (called an impaction). 

The longer impacted poo stays stuck in the bowel, the harder it gets to push out. The overstretched rectum stops sending messages to the brain telling your daughter that she needs to do a poo. She can’t feel the poo breaking away into her pants and doesn’t have any control over this happening. So she’s definitely not being deliberately difficult or lazy!

It’s important that your daughter is seen by a doctor as soon as possible so they can assess her for constipation and prescribe laxatives to clear the blockage and stop her soiling.

Surely my son can’t be constipated because he’s doing lots of very soft and runny poos?

Soiling is fresh, runny overflow poo which leaks round a hard poo blockage (called an impaction) in the rectum. Faecal soiling is often mistaken for diarrhoea.

Take your son to the doctor as soon as possible. They will assess him for constipation and, if necessary, prescribe medicine to clear out the poo blockage following the NICE guidelines on constipation in children and young people.

My son, who has recurring constipation and often soils his pants, starts school in September. How should I approach this with his teacher? 

It’s important to let the school know that your son suffers from constipation and soiling before he starts school. A meeting can then be arranged with the relevant teaching staff and school nurse so that together you can agree a care plan to make sure that his needs are met during the school day.  

Visit our Help at School information to get more information and advice on how your child should be supported at school and download our sample care plan template.

My GP prescribed a laxative for my daughter which has made her soiling worse. Should she stop taking it?

If a child is chronically constipated and has impacted poo they will need to be given increasing doses of medicine (most commonly a macrogol laxative to soften stools, possibly with the addition of a stimulant laxative to work on the pushing action of the bowel muscles) over a period of 5-7 days to clear the blockage. Laxative treatment will result in some soiling but this is a natural part of the clear-out process, which is called 'disimpaction'.

Many parents worry that the laxatives make the soiling problem worse, but it’s important that your daughter continues with the disimpaction. Stopping the medication too soon can result in the constipation recurring.

A lower, ‘maintenance dose' of the medicine is taken once the impaction has been cleared to ensure the poo remains soft and easy to pass. Your daughter may have to take regular laxatives for several months or even longer. 

Our podcast about disimpaction has lots more information and reassurance about the process. 

My daughter doesn't drink very much and I'm finding it really difficult to get her to take the laxatives she's been prescribed. She hates the taste. What can I do?

Children are more likely to accept their treatment if they understand why they need it, so try reading the children's section of our website with your daughter and some books on poo (available in our shop). Reward her for having her 'poo medicine' and increasing the amount she drinks each day.

Some other tips:

  • Make up the amount she needs and keep it in the fridge (it will keep all day). Some children find it easier to drink if it's cold and mixed with a sharp tasting juice such as lime or lemon.
  • Once mixed with the right amount of water first, the medicine can be mixed with milk, vegetable juice, soup or anything else your daughter likes to drink. Stronger flavours hide it best.
  • Offer her a straw to drink it through - this can make it more fun for young children. Drinking through a straw also bypasses some of our taste buds!
  • Try a flavoured laxative such as Movicol Chocolate or orange, lemon or lime CosmoCol.
  • If your daughter still won't drink it, ask your GP what other laxative options there are.

See our factsheet on how to prepare macrogol laxatives.

I’m worried my son is going to become reliant on laxatives and his bowels will never get back to normal!

There’s no evidence or medical research to suggest that laxatives damage the bowel or make it ‘lazy.’ By keeping his poo soft and on the move with effective laxative treatment, his overstretched bowel should go back to its normal size and your son should then be able to poo normally. 

Laxatives are seen as being a very safe treatment and some children will need to continue taking them into adulthood in a similar way that asthmatic children need an inhaler long-term. Any concerns about laxatives and their side effects should be discussed with a health professional. 

We’ve tried several different laxative treatments and our daughter is still constipated. What can we do now?

First check that you’re using the laxative treatment correctly (see our factsheet on how to prepare macrogol laxatives) and that your daughter has a good toilet routine in place.

She may need to be cleared out ('disimpacted') first (see our factsheet 'A Parent's Guide to Disimpaction') so that the right maintenance dose is easier to find, or be given a combination of laxatives - one to keep the poo soft and another to work on the pushing action of her bowel muscles.  

If your daughter still isn't responding to treatment, as per the NICE Quality Standards, ask your GP to refer her to your local continence clinic for an assessment by a specialist continence nurse. They should check her for any underlying physical cause of her constipation and explore further treatment options. 

My 7 year-old son still wets the bed most nights and I’ve been told constipation could be the cause. Is this right?

Yes, the bladder can also be affected by constipation. When the bowel gets overloaded with poo, it stretches and pushes against the bladder. This pushing distorts the bladder and makes it difficult to empty properly.

Leftover wee in the bladder can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs). The squashing of the bladder also reduces the storage space for urine and can cause the sensation of needing to wee frequently and urgently. Both these can lead to daytime and night time wetting problems.

See our information on how to deal with daytime bladder problems and bedwetting.

13. My son has autism and is also constipated. Our GP has said it's because of his additional needs and there's nothing we can do.

Research shows that children with autism are more prone to constipation and tummy problems, but they should be treated for their poo problem in exactly the same way as a child without additional needs.

Take a look at our Problems with Poo information page for more resources to support children with additional needs and constipation.