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Updated by: Marge Friedhoff, APNP
Update on: 5/30/2017


Signs and symptoms

2 or more present for 1 month

  • 2 or less bowel movements (BMs) per week
  • Painful or hard stools
  • Large diameter stools
  • Presence of large fecal mass in rectum

(if potty trained or 4 yrs old)

  • At least one episode of fecal incontinence per week and/or
  • History of retentive postures 

Alarming signs/symptoms

  • Constipation starting before 1 month of age
  • Meconium passed > 48 hours
  • Family history of Hirschprungs disease
  • Ribbon stools
  • Blood in stools without anal fissures
  • Failure to thrive
  • Fever
  • Bilious vomiting
  • Abnormal thyroid gland
  • Severe abdominal distention
  • Perianal fistula
  • Abnormal position of anus
  • Absent anal or cremasteric reflex
  • Decreased lower extremity strength and done or reflexes
  • Sacral dimple or hair tuft
  • Gluteal cleft deviation
  • Extreme fear during anal inspection
  • Anal scars

Referring provider's initial evaluation and management

Diagnosis and treatment

If breast-fed infant:

  • Reassurance that infrequent stools can be normal.
  • If infant dyschezia can reassure infant will learn to defecate on own, or can do tummy massage, bicycle the legs, and rectal stimulation with thermometer daily for a 2-3 weeks until infant has developed good pattern of elimination.

For infant < 6 months with constipation:

  • Suppository to clean out the rectum
  • Do not use liquid glycerin suppositories.
  • Give 0.5 to 1 oz of prune or pear juice in bottle daily or as needed to soften stools.
  • Change formula, consider whey based formula, or hydrolysate formula for 2 week trial.
  • If no improvement after 2 weeks, consider hypoallergenic formula.
  • Tummy massage, bicycle legs, rectal stimulation as needed.
  • If retentive postures hold infant in squatting position.
  • Dark karo syrup, although safe, is no longer consistently effective and may not work.
  • For infant >6 months:
  • Suppository to clean out the rectum.
  • Lactulose syrup 1 mL/kg 1-2 times/day
  • Milk of Magnesia 1-3 mL/kg/day
  • Sorbitol syrup 1 mL/kg 1-2 times/day

For toddler and young child not yet potty trained:

  • Education about potty training should be introduced early and repeated often to avoid unrealistic expectations of child. If constipated, toilet training should be delayed until child is having regular pain free stools and is interested in potty training.
  • For toddler and preschool child who are withholding stools:
  • Relief of fecal impaction with oral or rectal medications:
  • Liquid glycerin suppository every 48 hours until oral medications are working (no longer than 2 weeks).
  • Or Miralax 1.5 gm/kg/day for 3 days for oral clean out. Then child can be maintained on Miralax 0.4-0.8 gm/kg/day. If parent has concerns about using Miralax, you can use different osmotic laxative or refer to this FAQs PDF on
  • Lactulose 1 mL/kg 1-2 times a day
  • Milk of magnesia 1-3 mL/kg/day
  • Mineral oil 1-3 mL/kg/day
  • Sorbitol 1 mL/kg 1-2 times/day
  • Most children who are volitionally holding back stool will also need stimulant for at least a few months:
  • Senna syrup 1-2.5 mL 1-2 times/day
  • Chocolate laxative (Exlax) 0.5 to 1 chew tab/day

Educate parents about:

  • The need for balanced diet, containing adequate fiber, fluids, and avoiding excessive dairy. They also need to know about the medication and how it is to be administered, and that it is not to be stopped until they are instructed to wean the child off of it.
  • Parents need to know how to recognize signs of readiness for potty training and how to proceed.

When to initiate referral/ consider refer to GI Clinic:

  • If any of the alarm signs and symptoms are present.
  • Those with abnormal thyroid: refer to Endocrine.
  • Those with abnormalities of spine or muscle tone and reflexes: refer to neurology
  • If one or more cleanouts were attempted and not successful.
  • If treatment was initially successful but always relapses.
  • (see algorithm for infants <6 months and for children >6 months)

What can referring provider send to GI Clinic?

1. Using Epic

  • Please complete the external referral order

In order to help triage our patients and maximize the visit, the following information would be helpful include with your referral order:

  • Urgency of the referral
  • What is the key question you would like answered?

Note: Our office will call to schedule the appointment with the patient.

2. Not using Epic external referral order:

  • In order to help triage our patients maximize the visit time, please fax the above information to (414) 607-5288
  • It would also be helpful to include:
  • Chief complaint, onset, frequency
  • Recent progress notes
  • Labs and imaging results
  • Other Diagnoses
  • Office notes with medications tried/failed in the past and any lab work that may have been obtained regarding this patient's problems.

Specialist's workup will likely include

After referral to GI Clinic:

  • Child will receive testing only if it is warranted and if it has not already been done.
  • You will receive consultation letter with assessment and plan within a week of the clinic visit.
  • You will receive updates any time the child returns for follow up. You may also receive a phone call if there are any additional concerns.

Algorithm for treating constipation in infants <6 months old and >6 months old below


Constipation figure 1 for infants less than 6 months


Constipation figure 2 for infants greater than 6 months 


Source for Algorithms

Evaluation and Treatment of functional constipation in Infants and Children: Evidence-Based recommendations from ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN. It is in JPGN vol 58, number 2, Feb 2014.
Tabbers, DiLorenzo, Berger et al.