Gastroenteritis and Constipation In Children: Causes and Treatment

What is gastroenteritis? Read on to learn the causes, symptoms and treatment of gastroenteritis and constipation in children.


What is Gastroenteritis In Children? (“Stomach Flu”)

Gastroenteritis, commonly known as “stomach flu”, is the infection of the intestines. This may be caused by food poisoning if your child ate food that was improperly cooked or handled, for example, cooked food that has gone bad (infected by germs or bacteria). A viral infection, such as rotavirus, is also among the causes of gastroenteritis in children.

Related: Food Poisoning in Children

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis In Children

diarrhoea (frequent, loose watery stools)
stomach cramps or pain
fever (may or may not be present)

Related: Diarrhoea (Child)

Treatment for Gastroenteritis In Children

One of the dangers of gastroenteritis is dehydration, due to frequent vomiting and/or diarrhoea leading to loss of fluids from the body. Get your child to drink more water and rest as much as possible. Do note that if your child is vomiting, avoid giving him large amounts of water at one go as it is likely to trigger more vomiting. Instead, give him small, frequent sips of water.

Avoid giving your child milk. Gastroenteritis may reduce the intestines’ ability to digest lactose in milk, resulting in more tummy ache and diarrhoea. Instead, let him drink fluids such as water, barley water, rice water or rehydration fluids as advised by your doctor. If he has no appetite for solid food, don’t worry. Adequate fluid intake is more important in the early stages.

If you suspect your child is dehydrated, for example, if he has not urinated for many hours or your baby’s diaper is dry, or his lips and tongue are very dry and he is very lethargic, please bring him to the Emergency Room immediately.

Related: Viral Gastroenteritis

What is Constipation?

Children can have varying bowel movements at different ages.
Newborns have more frequent bowel movements in a day, sometimes with each feed.
Breastfed babies may have bowel movements without pain up to seven days apart, as breastmilk is more easily digested and absorbed by the body. Breastfeeding stools can range from as infrequent as once in several days to as many as 10 to 12 stools per day. Your baby’s stool is likely to be soft and the colour of mustard.
Babies drinking formula milk may have stools that are bulkier.

You may find it alarming if your baby has not passed motion for days. However, the frequency of bowel movement is not a good indicator of constipation. Rather, it is the ease of passing motion and the consistency of his stools that matter.

Your child may have constipation if he experiences any of the following:
His bowel movements are irregular or less frequent than usual.
He has difficulty passing stools which are often harder than usual.
He complains of a stomach ache or pain in the anus when passing stools. There could be slight bleeding due to a minor tear in the anus.

Related: Chronic Constipation

What Causes Constipation in Young Children?

1. Diet: As your child’s diet changes, so does his bowel movements. If he is not taking enough fibre or fluid, his stools can harden and become more difficult to pass out.
2. Holding the urge to go: Your child may not want to disrupt his play, or is afraid of passing stools due to an earlier painful episode. Frequent holding back of bowel movements can lead to harder stools.
3. Emotional anxieties: Are you trying to potty train your child too early? Or is there a new baby in the family, or a new pre-school to adapt to? Emotional factors may disrupt bowel movements too.

Related: 4 Reasons You Keep Going to the Loo

What Can You Do If Your Child Has Constipation

More fibre helps: Offer your child more fibre-rich food such as wholegrain crackers, fruit and vegetables.
More water please: Let your child drink more water or milk to increase the fluid in his diet.
Exercise more: Being active promotes regular bowel movements.
Make time for the potty or toilet: Help your child get used to taking “toilet breaks”, just like how he also needs to take time off from play for meals and naps.
Be patient and keep calm: Being anxious over your child’s bowel movements or potty training can be counterproductive.

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Gastroenteritis and Constipation In Children: Causes and Treatment

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