Constipation Conundrum: Because Sometimes Poop Doesn’t Happen

Constipation. It’s not the greatest of topics to write about. But, $hit happens. Or in some cases, it doesn’t. And when you finally notice it hasn’t happened in what… a few days? Maybe a week? TWO WEEKS? The panic sets in.

pink toilet

The thoughts of forcing your kid to drink prune juice, the complaints over the daily MiraLAX or God forbid a multiple-day MiraLAX cleanout, complete with a dose or two of Senna Syrup – which results in days at home, near the potty, back in pull-ups (usually only needed at night) – and often extends beyond the “three-day” length the instructions suggest. And if all else fails, you go to the last resort option, the dreaded glycerin suppository – which is still not guaranteed to work!

Kid constipation is a real – I have to say it – pain in the butt!
Okay, jokes aside. Dealing with chronic constipation with our kiddos is frustrating, exhausting, stressful, and embarrassing. And I’m finding out it’s much more common than I ever realized. A majority of the time I share our story, I hear a similar story – which made me wonder…why isn’t this talked about more?! I mean, aside from the obvious – no one loves talking about poop (well, except maybe most kids – and do I dare say it – some men.)

We certainly don’t want to embarrass our kids, but maybe if we talk about it more, it will be easier to navigate because we will have heard the info and not feel like we’re out there on our own searching the web like it’s some sort of taboo topic or mystery to be solved. With that said it does feel like a mystery we need to solve. If you’ve been through it, I’m sure you’d agree…THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY to combat constipation.

Our First Experience…and then – yes – the next
Our first experience with constipation was when our daughter was a newborn. Because of a genetic condition, she was on soy formula which quickly caused issues for her. While it was heartbreaking to watch her go through because she had obvious discomfort from it, the solution was not glamorous, but it was straightforward. Q-tips and Vaseline. And it worked!

Fast forward to around the age of 7, we realized she was getting frequent UTIs – but didn’t have symptoms. After ruling out any major issues and following a scan of her belly we found the likely issue to be constipation. This was the first time we were introduced to the 3-day clean-out method. We started with Senna syrup (there is another product that is often used, but it contains dairy so my daughter can’t have it), followed by water with an extraordinary amount of MiraLAX. That part was easier than expected.

The Waiting Game
So then we waited. And waited. After a day or two we had minimal progress. And within a few days there had been some, but little did we know that it wasn’t done. I appreciate detailed instructions and follow them very carefully, which means I also take them literally. So, when I read “three-day” clean out. I expected to have results in three days and then be able to get on with our lives. What I learned is they need the following info following an asterisk*. And that asterisk means this: 

  • *If you are not successful you should repeat   
  • *It may take more than three days to complete the clean out…including spontaneous loose bowels without warning up to 5 days later while your child is at school.

It wasn’t until I was doing a clean out with my younger two that I was told the info from the first bullet. The second bullet we learned the messy way, while my poor kid was at school. Again. THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY to combat constipation.

Why Me…Why Us?!
Is it possible to have all three of your children experience constipation issues? Yes, IT IS. Lucky me. And you better believe in my hardest, most frustrating days dealing with chronic constipation, I have certainly blamed myself. And in my lowest of moments, and most dramatic of days, I may have cried/yelled and told my husband I’m a terrible mother and something must be wrong with me that I can’t even teach my kids to go on the potty. Dramatic, yes. True, no. Well, I don’t think. My 5-year-olds are still pooping their pants, so I guess that’s debatable.

Are My Kids Going to get Kicked out of Preschool?
But that wasn’t always the case. Their situation was different. They were fully potty trained and started 4-year-old preschool just fine. One of them had occasional accidents, but nothing consistent. But after weeks of multiple accidents, we began receiving emails from the school. I understood their frustration because I, too, was beyond frustrated and unsure of why the potty accidents were on the rise. A few months went by, and things weren’t improving. It was around this time that I finally pinpointed the cause, going back to when it all started. They both had been sick with RSV and the accidents started soon after. The link between the two wasn’t immediately clear but a trip to the doctor helped connect the dots. Before I had a chance to schedule a doctor’s appointment, the school requested a meeting. At this point, it had been going on for almost six months. I thought, “this is it; my kids are getting kicked out of preschool.


The School Thought it was a Parenting Issue!
In a Zoom meeting, we discussed how they were handling things at school, what was happening at home, and the plan for the next steps. After my husband and I disconnected from the call I looked at him and said, “They think we are abusing our kids.” I mean – no one came out and said that – of course. But it was reiterated multiple times that they are being very positive with the girls, not making them feel bad or telling them they are in trouble. They also said they had increased the trips to the bathroom to give them multiple chances a day to try, and on one such trip one of the girls said, they “didn’t want mom and dad to be angry,” and another time they “were scared.”

Yup, that sounds bad without any context. It was something one of our girls had been saying at home when she had an accident. We of course explained to our girls – we’re not angry, we’re frustrated, and we need them to tell us when they have accidents. I was very transparent on the school call – I thanked them for showing so much grace during the no doubt frustrating situation and said we also try to stay positive. But I’d be lying if I said we don’t ever raise our voices out of frustration and have tried everything possible, including taking things away or threatening consequences if they don’t start going on the potty. In our hearts, we mostly knew it wasn’t something they were doing on purpose, but they are so smart and also sometimes extremely stubborn, so there are times you just can’t help but wonder. So, you try all the things, just in case, hoping desperately to find something that works.

 I do feel the need to say the school staff has been amazing to work with, and while I did feel awful coming out of that meeting, I believe it came out of a place of caring for my kids and looking for red flags and signs that something could be amiss at home. The school was just doing their job.

After The Awful Zoom Meeting
I made a doctor’s appointment and I shared my feelings about the RSV connection. At the appointment, my girls were sick, not eating or drinking much, and had high fevers. Their dehydration had led to constipation. A quick feel of their stomachs confirmed it. I watched in horror as the doctor examined their bellies, all the way up to under their breastbone and just kept saying, “oh yup, that’s full of poop. Yup, poop over here too.” WHAT HAD I DONE? How long had these girls not pooped before I even realized it?

So – you guessed it – we were going to have to do a clean out. We started with the Senna syrup and then the directed amount of MiraLAX and water. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. It was not working. Finally on days 2 and 3 one kid started going, but the other had not. A friend came to the rescue and brought over a glycerin suppository. We gave it to my daughter and put her on the toilet. STILL NOTHING. The next day out of desperation, I was going to attempt another one. But my daughter knew what was coming and was not going to comply (I mean, can you blame her?).

As she screamed and kicked at me and sobbed not to touch her and it hurts and leave her butt alone, I felt sick to my stomach. I went cold thinking about what would happen when she went to school telling them her mommy put something in her butt and she didn’t like it. But also, we’ve talked a lot about consent. No means no. Their body, their choice. I could not in good conscience hold my kid down while she screamed and cried, and force a suppository on her. I just couldn’t. I felt sick. And I understand you might not understand this and think I’m overreacting. My friend had tried to describe a similar situation to me a few months before this and I just kind of shrugged it off, it couldn’t have been that bad. Well let me tell you – it was. THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY to combat constipation.

What I’m Learning … and I Need Your Help
I have since learned the minute they start having accidents, that it’s an indicator that my girls are backed up and we need to increase the MiraLAX. Once it works and they have a productive poop on the potty, they tend to stop having accidents.

Of course, less than a week from starting Kindergarten they were constipated again. The accidents started on our summer vacation. As soon as we got home, I resumed the daily MiraLAX. I’d given it to them almost every day but neither pooped, except for small accidents.

As we counted down the days until school started, I was losing sleep over this! My anxiety was through the roof. I know the teachers should not have to deal with our constipation conundrum, and yet I was at a loss about what else to do.

I used to reassure myself that it’s only temporary and they won’t be pooping their pants when they go away to college, but I’m not so sure of that anymore.

So, I’m open to all (okay, most) suggestions. Do you have a magic solution that has worked for your constipated kiddos? Share advice in the comments!

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Hi, I’m Jodie! I live in Williamston with my husband Chris and three girls: Francesca, and twins, Amelia and Annabelle. Since graduating from Central Michigan University (Fire Up, Chips!), I have worked full-time in the world of corporate communications, for 15 years. I also serve on the Galactosemia Foundation board, where I advocate for my two daughters living with the rare metabolic disease. I love Jesus, but I cuss a little and I drink coffee until wine is acceptable. When I can find a minute, I blog about my crazy, blessed life – often the hard stuff, but always with humor (and often a little sarcasm) at I can’t wait to start sharing my life and learnings with the Mid-Michigan Moms community!


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