What is constipation?

The incidence of constipation among children varies between 7 and 30 per cent depending on the country. A full 40 per cent develop symptoms already during the first year of life and these often persist for a long time. The problems often start when changing from breast milk to formula or with the introduction of solid food. Other frequent onset periods are during toilet training, between two and four years of age, or when the child starts school. Many children with constipation have continued problems as teens and adults. Only 60 per cent of constipated children are successfully treated with laxatives and many still have symptoms as teenagers and adults.

Symptoms and causes of constipation

A child up to four years of age is diagnosed with constipation if it meets at least two of the following criteria during one month:

  • Two or fewer bowel movements per week
  • History of excessive stool retention
  • Bowel movements that are hard, dry and difficult to pass
  • Painful or hard bowel movements
  • Large-diameter stools
  • Abdominal pain


In toilet-trained children, the criteria at least one episode per week of incontinence after the acquisition of toileting skills may also be used in the diagnosis.

Today researchers believe functional constipation in children may be caused by gut dysmotility and a disturbed microbiota, rather than bacterial overgrowth.

Read more about our microbiota