What Should Normal Bowel Movements Be Like?

An empty bathroom
Do you even know how often your older child goes to the bathroom?. Photo by Marlene Ford/Getty Images

If a child only has a bowel movement once or twice a week, is she constipated?

Probably, although the definition of constipation has more to do with whether or not a child's bowel movements are hard and/or painful then how often she is having them.

Normal Bowel Movements

If a child is having infrequent bowel movements, but they are soft and formed, then she likely isn't constipated. While some children have two or three bowel movements a day, others might go every two or three days.

Still, with only one or two bowel movements a week, she is probably having bowel movements that are very hard, painful, and are either large or like little balls or pellets, and if she is, then she is constipated.

On the other hand, a child who is going very frequently and the BMs are overly soft and watery, then that might be an indication of diarrhea and an infection or food intolerance.

The definition of normal bowel movements also depends on your child's age.

For example, it is normal for:

  • a breastfed newborn to have seven or more liquidy stools each day
  • an exclusively breastfed infant to go one or two weeks between soft bowel movements
  • a toddler to have bowel movements three times a day, which may be somewhat loose

And older children can normally have bowel movements between three times a day to three times a week.

What To Know About Normal Bowel Movements

Other things to know about normal bowel movements include that:

  • There is so much difference in what is normal, it is sometimes better to look for differences in your child's pattern of having bowel movements. If she went from twice a day bowel movements to only going twice a week, then something might be wrong.
  • It is easy to get fooled when kids have encopresis, a complication of constipation. Since they leak stool or have accidents, you might think they have diarrhea or simply don't want to take the time to go to the bathroom. Instead, they are usually just severely constipated and don't know that they have to go to the bathroom.
  • Extra fiber is usually a good idea if your child isn't having regular bowel movements.
  • Painful bowel movements can lead kids to hold their stool, leading to more severe constipation and even more painful bowel movements - a vicious cycle. It is important to try and interrupt the cycle early.

Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric gastroenterologist if your child isn't having normal bowel movements.

Sources:

Pediatric Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease (Fourth Edition)

Walter et al. Assessment of normal bowel habits in the general adult population: the Popcol study. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2010 May;45(5):556-66.

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