What Are Normal Bowel Movements For Kids?

Learn how to tell if your child's stool is normal or cause for concern

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

What constitutes a normal bowel movement when it comes to kids? As an adult, you might have gotten used to a certain routine, but your child's bowel habits don't have to mimic yours. It is common for children to be constipated and kids tend to be more susceptible to diarrhea-causing stomach bugs as well. 

If your 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 your child's bowel movements are hard or painful as opposed to how often he is having them.

Evaluating Your Child's Stool

If your 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.

If your child only produces 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. If this is what you have observed, then your child is most likely constipated.

On the other hand, if your child is frequently going to the bathroom and producing overly soft and watery stools, then they may have diarrhea, which can be caused by an infection or food intolerance. Changes in bowel habits that do not resolve within a few days should always be evaluated by your child's doctor. Bloody stools or painful bowel movements not caused by constipation should always be evaluated by a medical professional.

 

What constitutes a normal bowel movement also depends on your child's age. For example, a breastfed newborn may have seven or more liquidy stools each day whereas an exclusively breastfed infant may go one or two weeks between soft bowel movements. A toddler can 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.

Determining What Is and Isn't Constipation 

Normal can differ dramatically from child to child, making it better to look for differences in your child's pattern of having bowel movements than comparing them to others. If your child went from going twice a day to only going twice a week, something might be wrong.

It is easy to get fooled when kids have encopresis, a complication of constipation. Since encopresis causes kids to leak stool or have accidents, you might think your tot has diarrhea or doesn't want to take the time to go to the bathroom. Leakage may just be a result of being severely constipated or not knowing they have to use the bathroom.

Painful bowel movements can lead kids to hold their stool, leading to more severe constipation and even more painful bowel movements. If you notice your child is doing this, work with him to build healthy bathroom habits. It is important to try and interrupt the cycle early.

If your child is constipated, speak to your pediatrician about ways you can get extra fiber in their diet. This can easily be done by incorporating more fruits and vegetables at meal time or by using dietary supplements. 

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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