The Potty Training Enemy: Everything You Need to Know About Constipation

child on potty seat

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Constipation is a little-known — but powerful — enemy of potty training progress. It’s important to solve a constipation problem quickly. Besides the pain and discomfort constipation can cause, it also complicates potty training. Here are some common questions when dealing with constipation. 

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So what's happening inside their tummies? When poop is trapped in the colon, it blocks the nerve signals between the abdomen and the brain, making it difficult for your child to feel whether she has to go. Surprisingly, it makes it harder for her to feel when she has to pee, too! And a single hard, painful poop is something that most toddlers remember for a very long time. This can cause withholding and poop avoidance, which worsens the constipation even more. Children can even become constipated if they poop every day, simply by not letting it all come out each time.

How do I know if my child is constipated?

Constipation usually means your child begins to poop less often, and stools become hard, “pebbly” and difficult to push out.

Should I be worried if my child is constipated?

When poop is trapped in the colon, it blocks the nerve signals between the abdomen and the brain, making it difficult for your child to feel whether they have to go number two or number one. A single, painful poop is something that most toddlers remember for a very long time.

Hmm. How many times a day should my child be pooping?

There’s no standard number of times your child should poop each day or each week. On average, your child should produce about the size of a small banana in poop each day.

What are some constipation remedies?

Talk to your child’s doctor about what is recommended, and take a good look at your family’s diet, too. Load up on the fruits, veggies and fiber-rich foods such as dried fruit, berries, beans, high-fiber cereal, plums and apples.

Is constipation ever really serious?

In severe cases, toddlers actually have very loose, watery poop smears in their underwear or diapers; that’s evidence of impacted poop, which is causing a plug in the bowel. The liquid poop oozes out around it and causes the skid marks. This is a sign of serious constipation and your child should be treated immediately by a pediatrician.

Want more potty-training tips and ideas for Tackling Toddlerhood Together? We've got them here.


Dr. Heather Wittenberg is a licensed psychologist with a PsyD degree whose specialty is in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers and parents. Dr. Heather uses social media to help the public understand the complex, but important, world of child development. She is a writer and producer at BabyShrink, and her company, BabyShrink LLC, also consults with universities and corporations to reach families with young children via social and traditional media. She lives in Hawaii with her husband and four young children.

Image ©iStock.com/EvgeniiAnd

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