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Strategies for Improving Bowel Habits

Improving bowel habits involves education to help a person with bowel disorders establish or reestablish control. Learning new skills or strategies to develop a routine for evacuation can help treat or prevent constipation and inability to control bowel movements.

Children most often develop constipation as a result of holding in stool. There may be any one of several reasons for this. For example, they may wait too long after feeling the urge to have a bowel movement because they are playing or feel embarrassed to use a public restroom. Or they may withhold stool because they had a painful bowel movement and now fear it will happen again.

A child who is constipated may soil his or her underpants. This happens when liquid stool from farther up in the bowel seeps past the hard stool in the rectum and leaks out. The child does not do this on purpose and may not know when it happens.

A doctor or other health care provider that is familiar with treating bowel disorders can provide guidance. This will include a review of the child’s medical history, diet, and daily routine.

Generally, improving bowel habits involves three basic principles:

  1. Improve consistency of stool – The optimal goal for stool consistency is a formed, soft stool that is easy to pass.
  2. Establish a regular time for elimination – This should be at the same time each day. A good time is after meals, and preferably at a time that is unhurried.
  3. Stimulate emptying on a routine basis – Usually a stimulus of some kind may be needed to help have a bowel movement. The stimulus will vary from person to person. Eating a meal is one example. The least stimulus that is effective in promoting a painless bowel movement is recommended.

Once bowel habits have been normalized, you will want to take steps to prevent constipation from recurring. Help make improving bowel habits a positive experience for your child and remember not to punish your child for related soiling episodes.

Adapted from IFFGD Publication: Strategies for Establishing Bowel Control #302 by Mary K. Plummer, OTR, WI.

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IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

Our original content is authored specifically for IFFGD readers, in response to your questions and concerns.

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