Constipation and soiling in children is common, and often caused by a food intolerance to dairy or gluten

Constipation is when the bowel motions are firm or hard, and difficult to pass.
This can be caused by either not enough fluid in the stool (faeces),
or often by some malfunction of the gastrointestinal tract (your gut).

About 10% of babies and children are troubled with constipation.
Often, this is a minor and short-lived.  However, some children have great difficulty.

Cow’s milk intolerance

For babies with troublesome constipation, the most common cause is a cow’s milk protein intolerance.  Studies show that 80% of constipation in the first year of life is due to a cow’s milk reaction. (see: Intolerance of cow’s milk and chronic constipation in children.

If the baby is on a cow’s milk-based formula, then it is simple to change this to one of the special milk formulas (we can help you with this).  If solids have been introduced, then ensure that everything is dairy-free.

If breast-fed, the solution is for mother to go on a cow’s milk free.

Encopresis and soiling

As constipation becomes more entrenched, the colon becomes loaded with feces.  Eventually, the child can no longer hold back the pressure of all of this poop.  Subsequently, feces will ooze out – this is called encopresis, or soiling.  It is a more advanced symptom of chronic constipation.


In older children, the most common cause for constipation is gluten sensitivity.
Without treating the underlying food intolerance, the only treatment is more laxatives.

We can help you diagnose and treat troublesome constiation at the Childrens Clinic, Christchurch.

Comments (1)

  1. Hi there

    My daughter is 4 and has been toilet trained since the age of 2. Since then about twice a year she becomea constipated and soils due to the blockage. Once the blockage has gone she is fine for a long time then it happens again. However just recently this has become a regular problem and has been hapoening every week for the past 6/7 weeks. Ive spoke to the gp and agreed i would change her diet giving her more grapes, rasins, sweetcorn, carrots, cauliflour and also pineapple juice, apple juice and orange juice, plus weetavix for breakfast. She has been doing really well eatibg and dribkibg all this but the problem persists. As a baby she had CMP and was on neocate formula til she was 1 and we contibued not to give dairy until she was 2. She was always constipated as a baby and suffered with bad wind. Now as a child her tummy is always bloated and often complains of tummy ache. Could the soiling and constipation now be linked to the intolerance ahe had as a baby or some other kind of intolerance? Any advice appreciated

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