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Like adults, children vary in how often they open their bowels and sometimes parents can mistake their child's natural pattern for constipation. The average is anywhere between three times a day and once every three days but there is no such thing as normal. Even beyond three days, constipation is only diagnosed if there are other problems such as pain in younger children or leaking in children who have gotten beyond the potty stage.

Constipation can be defined as a delay or difficulty in the passage of stools. Although constipation is rarely a problem with young babies, some breastfed babies may not open their bowels more than once in ten days because they absorb so much of the milk and there is so little waste. Bottle-fed babies tend to produce harder stoools more regularly and occasionally they can become mildly constipated if they are not taking in enough fluids. The problem can also arise when a breastfed baby switches to formula or when bottles are offered more frequently. Once a baby is prepared to take solid food as well as milk it is important to build up the intake gradually and to get the balance right.

Babies need fibre, but parents must be careful not to overfeed with cereal-based fibre in the belief that they are doing the right thing to prevent constipation. A bit of muesli is all right, but fruit and vegetables are a better source of fibre as part of a balanced diet. A diet that is very high in milk and other dairy products can also cause digestive problems.

Another cause of constipation could be over-rigorous toilet training. Parents can put too much pressure on their children instead of making toilet training fun and praising the successes. CHildren can become very skillful at retaining their faeces and this in turn leads to pain when they do try to pass a stool. Stools can be painfully large after a build up and children will then avoid doing anything that causes pain.

It is not recommended that laxatives are used to treat constipation in children, particularly suppositories. If a child is eating properly, the bowel should start functioning normally.