Elimination Problems in Infants and Children

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Follow this chart for more information about changes in an infant or child's bowel movements.

SYMPTOMS DIAGNOSIS SELF-CARE
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1. Does your child have frequent, watery bowel movements?


Yes

DIARRHEA is often caused by a gastrointestinal infection, but it can also be caused by other illnesses or something your child eats. Diarrhea can be harmful to children if it leads to dehydration.

Encourage your older child (older than 2) to drink water and other clear fluids. Ask your doctor about giving your baby or toddler an oral rehydration solution (ORS). Avoid giving your baby too much fruit juice, as this may cause diarrhea.

See your doctor if your child is younger than 6 months of age and has diarrhea. Also, see your doctor if your child's diarrhea is severe; if he or she also has a fever, vomiting or severe abdominal pain; if his or her stools look bloody or slimy; or if he or she is dehydrated.

No

2. Does your child strain to have a bowel movement, and are his or her stools very hard and dry?


Yes

Hard, pellet-like stools may be a sign of CONSTIPATION.

If your infant or child has ongoing constipation and very infrequent bowel movements, it may be a sign of HIRSCHSPRUNG'S DISEASE, a condition that affects the wall of the large intestine.

Add more fluids to your child's diet. If your child is an infant, make sure that he or she is getting enough formula or breast milk. If your infant takes formula, use a low-iron formula.

If you think your child might have Hirschsprung's disease, see your doctor.

No

3. Does your child have gas, bloating and diarrhea, especially right after eating foods that contain wheat or cow's milk?


Yes

The inability to digest wheat (CELIAC DISEASE) or milk (LACTOSE INTOLERANCE) can cause these symptoms. 

Eliminate foods that make your child sick from his or her diet. Talk to your doctor about treating your child's intolerance of milk and dairy products with lactose enzyme. Soy formula may be an appropriate substitute for infants who have lactose intolerance.

No

4. Does your child seem to have pain with bowel movements, or do you suspect he or she holds the bowel movements to prevent pain?


Yes

Pain from HEMORRHOIDS or an ANAL FISSURE can cause a child to hold a bowel movement for many days.

See your doctor if the pain is not better in a few days.

No
For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your child's problem is serious, call your doctor right away.  

This tool has been reviewed by doctors and is for general educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. The information in this tool should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health. Always consult your family doctor with questions about your individual condition(s) and/or circumstances. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Health & Medical Guide. Dallas: Word Publishing; 1996.

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