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Of children, diet, and poop, and crying mothers with toilet plungers

In order to protect the child of whom I am speaking, I won't say which of my sons is the sufferer, but he's a grade-schooler, and as grade-schoolers do, he eats the school breakfast and lunch with alacracity. Even though the Farm to Table program is making strides in increasing good grains and vegetables, it's still pretty much a white flour- and sugar-rich diet. At home, I make concerted effort to get dried fruit, whole grains, and lots of vegetables into the kids (and lots of kombucha), but whenever I stray from my constant vigilance, and a sugary snack or loaf of white bread sneaks in the door, they gobble it up. I swear sometimes they drop themselves into the mail slot and sidle in behind the kitty. I swear it!

Enter the digestive system, and its slowing and slowing until, boom! it compacts into a ball of disgusting solid poop that hurts coming out and prevents a child from wanting to to expel it. A few days of protesting, crying, negotiating and writhing later, the poop cannot be denied and it clogs up my toilet.

The first time I ended up fishing the poop out. This was awful, just stinkin' awful, and left me with blisters on my hand from the plunging. I was literally standing over the toilet sobbing in frustration. The second time and the third time and the fourth time I used a combination of boiling hot water, Dr. Bronner's (the drain clog stuff that also clogs your nostrils and probably poisons fish from here to Hawaii doesn't even work: take it from me) and lots of waiting. A little crying, or at least, wanting to cry, from the smell. (All the time trying to express to my son how I'm not angry at him, it's just the situation is very frustrating and we need to work on his diet! A lot! I'm just so so frustrated!) After a while, the hot water will break up the poop to the point where it can be flushed down. This is highly smelly; but non-toxic, at least.

The fifth time my sister-in-law bought me a super-plunger. This actually works pretty well -- I was able to avoid the blisters and the crying, and it only took about 15 minutes from clog to free flow.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, as my son writhed for a sixth time, once again having gone about a week without pooping, I called the pediatrician for some wise words from her lovely nurse. She sounded like she knew exactly where I was going with this story, prompting me, "and he puts off going, right?" Yes. This made me believe my son's story is not unusual, so I'm sharing it with you.

Her advice for him was to get him some Mirilax, or Benefiber, or the generic version, and feed him a capful a day for "a few days" until things became looser and he lost that painful, wiggly, writhing need to stop up the poop. Though I'd already rattled off a list of things I've been trying to get into him; whole grains, raw vegetables, dried fruit, she provided a more specific list:

  • prunes (the reputation is deserved)
  • dried cranberries
  • popcorn
  • oatmeal
  • and a "yes" to my raisins and carrot sticks

Well, the pooping that was to come was inevitable. About a teaspoon's worth into his hot cocoa (sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar just for good measure) with Walgreen's version of Mirilax, he ran upstairs and proceeded to clog the toilet one more time. As I sweated and ached and (again) cried over this very stubborn, very yucky job -- delaying a healthy dinner AND bedtime AND my work (and this post, to make it even worse) -- I made sure he was drinking the rest of his cocoa.

When he asked for a bedtime snack, I asked first, "do you want some peas?" (no) and then offered up popcorn. We took our bowl of popcorn to bed, giving me hope for the rest of the week.

I'd love to hear any particular secrets or foods that work really well for you, or, of course, commisseration. I love a nice "I've been there" from time to time. I'll appreciate it as I spend the next two hours in the shower, trying to wash away the memories of all that disgusting, icky, sticky poop.


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Loved this post. I wish I could hug you.

My son is only a toddler so we haven't had the toilet issue (yet??), but what works every time to get things 'going': blended prunes (the baby kind from the store) and peanut butter sandwich. It's just like jelly (heck, I'd even eat it).

Anyway, he eats it and BAM!

Just....yes. Been there. :D

My nephew had this problem years ago. I had read somewhere that warm water w/lemon before bed every night helped. My sister tried this, though she added a bit of honey. She reported that it really worked, especially when done regularly.

I've had to break up my then-2 year old daughter's poop with a wooden spoon because I knew the clog was inevitable. Then the clog. I've so been there. The most awful part for me was watching how sad and uncomfortable she was holding her poop in for days at a time. I kept her on Miralax every day for 6 months so she would forget how pooping ever hurt. Now we eat cooked oat bran for breakfast every day, doctored with cinnamon, raisins, and brown sugar (she cheerfully eats a huge bowl every morning, thank goodness), and now finally she poops every day. Hallelujah!

Plunging huge poops is not my favorite part of being a parent, either!

I've never dealt with a situation this bad (though it reminds me of cleaning up vomit while trying not to gag yourself while your child is crying and upset).

But my daughter did get constipated a few times as a toddler and my sister, who is pediatrician, recommended pear juice. It works as well as prune juice and tastes a bit better. I'd give it to her watered down for a day or two and it would definitely do the trick. She was around two, so we called it "the juice that makes your bottom feel better." We never needed a full bottle, so I'd freeze the leftovers for the next time (she'd get constipated whenever we had visitors stay with us).

That's a lotta poo! My son had a similar problem when he hit kindergarten and refused to go at school. He added accidents to his problem, when the poo leaks out around the constipated parts. Pretty yucky. We cleaned out the system with a lot of Miralax and then did a daily dose for a period of time. We've had to do it now and then over the years but for us it's the easiest and most effective solution.

If your child is suffering from encopresis then increases fiber is the enemy because it creates bulkier stools. If he is willfully with holding out of fear of pain or a need for control the fix can take months. My niece went through this and their doctor had them use mineral oil in her chocolate milk so that she could'n withhold and it took almost 6 months of painfree movements for her to go willingly. This is a long haul.


Interesting article about relationship between being impacted and bed wetting:


Im sorry my post is gone. Please search "encopresis" and look at article on Slate about why kids really wet the bed. More fiber makes then problem worse.

Oh hey, its back! Thanks and good luck.

Pear juice! We buy the little bottles in the baby food isle since we usually only every need one small bottle every few months. Lots and lots of water works too, but that's a lot harder to get my child to drink. My 4 yr old tends toward constipation too, but luckily no major toilet clogging as a result!

I heart Miralax. Seriously, the best stuff ever. No taste, non habit-forming, piece of cake to administer. Can't go wrong. My kid was the withhold poop to gain control over her life kid and therefore there wasn't a diet issue to make it worse again, only life. Does he have to eat school breakfast / lunch? I realize you can't really make him NOT eat it if it's offered, but maybe if he ate oatmeal with flax (and then brown sugar and a little maple syrup too) in the mornings before going to school he wouldn't be hungry enough to eat the junk breakfast? Just a hope. And the beautiful thing is that oatmeal is cheap. Not the flavored kind, but the regular slow-cook oats. Flax isn't super cheap, but a little goes a long way, and then the brown sugar. You can add raisins instead of maple syrup sometimes. Maple syrup is expensive, so we use it sparingly.

"In many children with encopresis, the colon has become stretched out of shape, so they may intermittently pass extremely large bowel movements. "

Scary and painful.

I actually used chocolate exlax to help my daughter who had encopresis. We had an xray to tell us she was very backed up. The pediatrician said miralax, but one of the leading experts on encopresis (http://encopresis.org) suggested one square of exlax before bed. The reasoning was that she needed to feel the "urge" to poop and relearn to listen to her body, not just get cleaned out. It worked like a charm. I still monitor how often she goes and if it's been more than a few days, we try the exlax again. I don't think we even used a whole pack it worked so well.

My two year old daughter has also had constipation issues since being an exclusively breastfed infant, so I wouldn't focus on the food so much. Even if he eats crap as school but healthy at home he should be fine. Sometimes it's just a child's constitution, not the food.
I'm at the point where I'd like to see a specialist. My daughter gets Miralax every few days. Without it she gets impacted. We've had her allergy tested, withheld dairy products and bananas and nothing seems to work. Can any one recommend a naturopath or a gastroenterologist?

@ Amy How long a period of time did that take? With my niece she was willfully withholding out of fear since it hurt and so they ended up using mineral oil since it was impossible to resist against.

My 4 year old just went through this. His ped prescribed Miralax, which we gave to him once, as it does produce near-instant relief. However, I have done some reading recently (see GAPS diet) that stool softeners can make problems worse for people who have chronic gut problems. McBride recommends therapeutic levels of probiotics (like, 40 billion live cultures). You can get good-quality and not as expensive at KirkmanLabs.com. You can also get them at New Seasons, but they are expensive.

So, we up our son's dosage of probiotics, and that worked much better than Miralax.

Wow, it's amazing how many posters are so willing to put the child on medication or see a specialist right off the bat. The main issue with constipation is not drinking enough fluids/water. Why not try that first!! It's very simple.

Thanks for being simplistic and judgemental. It's not "simple" it is actually quite complex and it is a real problem that water does not solve. Educate yourself before judging.

Amen to the last response to "it's that simple.". My daughter loves water and juice and drinks (and pees clear) all day long. I resisted Miralax so long because I am the type of mom who tries natural cures first. I avoided it for so long that as an 18 month old my daughter was pushing out baseball sized poops that more resembled child birth than a bowl movement and screaming in agony. She is still so traumatized by bowel movements that she wont poop unless i sit at a stool at her feet. Again this is an issue we have faced since she was an exclusively breastfed infant. I have an older child who eats and drinks the same foods and "regular" is an understatement when it comes to bathroom habits. I think for some kids there is a muh bigger issue than eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more water.

Muy kid drinks plenty of water, but has the same issues as the OP because of a poor/carby diet. We are not to the point of needing to medicate, are mostly waiting until he sees what we mean when we say 'eat better to poop better' The trouble is that he is very picky about food, but that is another issue in itself (it's texture related).

To answer 9:58 am, I think it only took a few doses for her to feel the urges again, then we monitored closely and used one square every couple of weeks and then again during a stressful period for us. Now I don't think much about it.

Y'all, I had no idea. I have an older child, so I'd guess we're well beyond this, but wow. No clue. Nothing to contribute, except sympathy for kidlets and mamas alike.

Except for when she's either been sick or was a breastfeeding infant, none of this was ever really a problem. Now she's older so it really isn't.

My pooh issues are reserved for the kitty these days

I feel like I'm about to curse myself by saying this, but ... it hasn't been a problem for us. We're vegetarian - could that be it? We don't push water, but' it's always on offer. We don't really offer much in the way of liquid for except water and milk. We eat natural, plain whole milk yogurt pretty regularly, sometimes with our oatmeal, which we also eat regularly. We don't eat school lunch - we pack our own. We eat a lot of different kinds of bread, but it's not always, or even mostly, whole grain. Maybe it's genes. But if environment plays any part in it, I'd have to say that not putting meat through the digestive tract may factor in, along with the plant-based foods that take meat's place.

It is often based in fear or comtrol and has nothing to do with diet. My niece got coxsackie and had sores inher throat and a high fever and so got dehydrated and had a very painful bowel movement. She associated bowel movements with pain and so withheld. Her parents increased fiber and water but it just made larger, bulkier movements which hurt and she resisted further. It took 6 months of mineral oil to clear her out and retrain her to believe thatb bowel movements do not hurt. While going through this my sister met lots of parents in the same boat. Some kids had organic gut provblems while others witheld for a variety of reasons from fear to starting daycare and not feeling comfortable going outside of home. It is a complex problem that is more than just a diet.

I want to add in that kids who are not good at expressing their emotions verbally or physically (acting out) can sometimes do so through their bodies. So my daughter, when upset that we were moving to a new house, stopped being potty trained. This led us to a whole cascade of medical issues and it took us a long time to figure this out. Kids might also hold their poop when they're stressed. So alongside the very sensible approaches people are talking about, and the preventive measures, you might try some conversations about how they're feeling . . .

I think most adults are accustomed to thinking of reacting to stress with headaches. Or maybe stomachaches. This is certainly my frame of reference. It didn't occur to me the add in elimination issues, so I just want to give other parents a heads up.

The anon at 6:20 After reading all these posts it is rude to assume it's based in parents poor choices or that your superiority spared your kids. Until recently autism and schizophrenia were said to be caused by refrigerator mothers. Luckily, most of us have moved beyond facile blaming.

My standard anti-constipation foods I feed to the kids are: peas in the pod, cracklin oat bran cereal, and water.

I personally have drank the warm water with a little lemon juice (doesn't have to be freshly squeezed) first thing in the morning, and it works well too.

Anon at 7:14, the OP is asking people what works for them. Did you read her post? She is worried that white flour and sugar are causing her problems. Did you read my post? I replied to her question. We eat plenty of white flour, but our diet is different in other ways, and that is what works for us. As I said, I don't know if it is our diet or our genes or something else.

Our child too drinks a lot of water, eats a good diet, excercises, sleeps well, but has always had a hard time with going the bathroom. It has been hurtful at times, so she withholds.

One thing that has helped is setting time aside every day for her to sit on the toilet, regardless of if she has to go or not (my husband's idea, not mine). She resisted at first but now she is finally in a good rhythm. This especially works if you are going the route of using extra fiber or some type of fruit nectar/prune juice.

Wow. Honestly, I am shocked that this is such a common problem (and shocked at the amount of poop you guys are talking about!).

(Which is not meant in a judgmental manner, just, wow, I had no idea.)

This is a common problem for children with ODD as well.

Thus far, my kids have been poop problem free. But, the kids that I work with often have issues with constipation due to meds/treatments. That said, we give every kid an Rx for Miralax at the beginning of treatment. In fact, our pharmacist even tested Miralax frozen in popsicles to make sure it maintained its integrity while frozen. Which, it does. So, frozen juice with Miralax is also an option.

I will just get down and personal about it. Both my brother and I did this on a regular basis when we were in junior high school. I could not say that we were constipated though. But we noted a distinct trend, it did not happen on school holidays. Playing detective, we realized that it was our diet. Every weekday morning, we ate Carnation breakfast bars for breakfast...loaded with nuts, oats, chocolate...just like bricks of lead actually. Removed them from the diet and that was the end of the toilet plunging.

There probably are genetic components, behavioral components which can play roles as well. But as a start, I would eliminate any power bar like food if they are commonly eaten!

Ah poop. We have more than our fair share of poop issues in this house. I just wanted to pipe in and say that I feel for you and your plunger blues. Each body is different. Keep up the detective work and find what works for your son. Good luck! This too shall pass.

And... to those who haven't walked in these shoes... please don't judge.


We're generally pretty good about our kid's diet (lots of fruits and veggies), but he can be a stubborn kid. We've been there, and one of the things that works for us is continuing to feed him infant pureed prunes. One serving per night - we say it's a treat (like pudding!), and he loves it. If its been a day or so, out come the prunes.

Poop poop poop. We talk about poop A LOT in our house . Our son (now 7) has always had a harder time with the poop than the pee. For him, the constipation plugs him up, but then poop needs to get out so it leaks/comes out/he can't feel it and then there is poop in the pants. Hard to realize he is constipated when there is poop everywhere! And it goes in phases. So this round we are trying to reduce the 'bars', add bene-fiber 3 x a day, have 5 minutes every morning on the potty (with added incentive of the iPad). Also re-enforcing that good poops are just like eating strong food and exercise- part of a healthy body. Trying to get more water during the day at school and trying to remain calm. Have wondered if we should xray to see what is really in there? He has had so much poop inside that he has doubled over in pain and had to come home from school. Poor guy. He also mentioned he did not like the TP at school, so thinking of sending wipes or his own to school, but wonder if that would be embarrassing? United in poop patrol!

Courtney if his colon is stretched then he might need to be cleaned out completely so that he can be retrained and so that the natural signaling system works again. As with others miralax worked for us but you have to stick with it for quite a while...for us it was several months.

um, maybe too much kombucha? it does have a small amount of alcohol in it, more if you make it at home. May not be the best thing for small kids in large quantities.

Have you tried Psyllium Seed? Just add a little - like a teaspoon - to a smoothie (yogurt, frozen fruit, oj, flax seed oil) and it works great and tastes great. Probiotics (as in yogurt) and plenty of good oils are important also.

Mama friends, I have been in these exact same shoes for a year+ when my travel back to India opened my eyes... no one deals with poop issues there, not chidren.. It is mostly because they eat simple foods, simple easy-to-digest foods... think rice, well-cooked lentils, steamed veggies, fruits, etc. BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT thing is eating FERMENTED foods as a staple diet. Everyday. Twice a day. All your carbs must be in fermented form. Please try this. Don't overload with fiber. Did not work for my little girl. had exact opposite effect.

Yogurt (home made if possible). Sour tasting foods means fermented. Which is good. I have some simple recipes for making fermented crepes and dumplings... or you can google idli and dosai recipes. Or I can even do a class to show you how.

This was life-changing for me. Really. If anyone needs help, please let me know. Even now, pizza, any breads, oats, cheese - all this can set my kid back into harder poop. Miralax and Benefiber and all that is not good for them, right? Easy poop is natural and possible... I learnt it the hard way.

I thought you'd like this article, if only for the part about how very common this is:
"Though nobody posts on Facebook, “My kid wet the bed again,” toileting problems are rampant in our culture. Physician visits for constipation have doubled among children in the last decade or so, while hospital visits for constipation have quadrupled. Eight percent of girls have had a urinary tract infection by age 7, accounting for one million annual visits to pediatric clinics and 14 percent of all emergency room physician encounters between young girls and ER docs. Furthermore, about five million kids wet the bed, including about 20 percent of 5-year-olds, 12 percent of 6-year-olds, and 10-percent of 7-year-olds.

Though the data is robust, I believe these numbers are actually underestimates. Since parents tend to believe potty problems are normal, many don’t bother bringing their kids to the doctor."


My daughter has the same problem. Shes been constipated since she was 2, but recently, at 12,it's been really bad. The pediatrician always tells me to give her more fiber, less starchy foods, plenty of water, & fish oil. None has worked. My daughter only drinks water. I might have to try the miralax. I'm so happy we are not alone.

I've heard Miralax is neurotoxic from folks with kids on the spectrum who are trying to undo the damage, fwiw. I'm sorry to everyone dealing with gut issues. We have our own. We had to just get really strict with diet and really heal that gut. We still have problems anyway, but not as severe. Good luck.


The highest rate of constipation, he said, was found in boys around 10. “My experience is the kids don’t like to go to the bathroom at school, so there’s a sort of voluntary retention that exacerbates itself.”

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