6 Useful Ways To Deal With Toddler Holding Poop

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Toddlers holding poop and not passing stool on time is a common phenomenon. This behavioral pattern may occur due to physical or psychological factors. If this problem is not resolved on time, it may lead to other health problems. Parents can deal with this situation only if they understand the cause behind their toddler’s behavior.

This post tells you about the signs and possible causes of a toddler holding poop. Also, learn effective ways to encourage your children to develop the habit of passing stool regularly.

Signs Of A Toddler Withholding Poop

The most notable sign is your toddler not passing stool for a few days. They may also show the following signs often suggestive of controlling the urge to pass stool (1) (2).

  • Display more gassiness than usual
  • Reduced appetite
  • Make their body stiff
  • Straighten their legs
  • Cross their legs
  • Clench the buttocks
  • Stand on their toes
  • Appear like they are straining as their face may turn red
  • Some toddlers may display urine incontinence (urine leakage)

Why Do Toddlers Withhold Poop?

The following are the common reasons for toddlers to withhold stool.

1. Constipation

Constipation is usually the most common reason for toddlers to withhold poop (1). Toddlers with constipation have hard, dry, and difficult-to-pass stools, which are difficult to pass. It may cause the toddler to prefer withholding the poop, worsening constipation.

2. Fear of bad experiences

A toddler might have some fear of using the toilet due to previous bad experiences. An intimidating experience, such as being ridiculed for an accident by a classmate or sibling, might prevent them from pooping, especially at the place where the accident occurred.

At times, the location of the toilet or embarrassment due to the loud sound of the toilet flush may make the child withhold their poop (3).

3. Uncertain about their potty training

Many toddlers have a smooth transition from diapers to the potty seat for peeing but may have problems with pooping out of diapers. They may resist pooping on the toilet seat, leading to the withholding of stool.

4. Independence and control issues

Toddlers develop a habit of asserting independence. They begin to refuse what their parents ask them to do and have a strong power struggle issue. Thus, when parents ask them to poop on the potty seat, they may refuse and withhold poop as they do not want to give in.

5. Engrossed in playing

Toddlers often do not like to spend their time in any other activity other than playing. They may rather spend time playing rather than visiting the toilet. It leads to withholding of poop, becoming a habit eventually.

6. Sensory or anxiety issues

Some toddlers with sensory processing disorders may not like the feeling of pooping. They might be overly sensitive to the smell and appearance of poop (4). In such cases, the toddler may resist going to the toilet for days together despite visible discomfort due to a full bowel.

7. Health problems

Several health issues may cause a toddler to withhold poop deliberately or involuntarily. Most health problems cause other signs and symptoms likely to be more noticeable than withholding poop (5) (6) (7).

The following conditions may interfere with the ability to poop, causing the toddler to withhold poop voluntarily or involuntarily (8) (9) (10) (11).

  • Celiac disease
  • Hirschsprung disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Fecal impaction
  • Colonic inertia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction

Complications Of Withholding Poop

It is essential to resolve the problem of withholding poop since it may lead to the following complications (12)(13).

  • Stomach pain
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Abdominal distension
  • Harder stools that are significantly difficult to pass
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Urinary tract infections

How To Get A Toddler To Poop?

Parents may try the following steps to help the toddler achieve healthy bowel movements (1).

1. Try simple strategies

You may try a strategy that works best for your toddler. A warm bath, a warm glass of milk, or a simple exercise before going to the toilet could work and make the toddler pass stool easily.

2. Choose the correct potty seat

Choose the right-sized potty seat for your toddler. Make sure their feet touch the floor, so they are not scared of falling off. The potty seat should be stable and not shaky so that the toddler isn’t frightened.

3. Educate the toddler

Positive reinforcement is essential and effective. According to the toddler’s age and maturity, explain how the food we eat from the mouth has to leave the body as poop. Get them some books that are available for children being potty trained. Answer their queries and do not use words or expressions that define poop as something gross. Tell them it is a natural process and reinforce it through your words and actions.

4. Change the diet

Consumption of highly processed food items void of fiber can cause constipation in toddlers. Fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, leafy greens, and fruits, add bulk to the stools, making it easier to pass them. Make sure to also include probiotic foods, such as yogurt or kefir, to help balance the gut flora. If your toddler has a health condition that restricts the type of food they can eat, speak to a pediatric nutritionist who may suggest an appropriate diet plan.

5. Ensure adequate hydration

A fiber-rich diet with insufficient hydration may make a child’s constipation worse. Make sure the toddler drinks ample fluids. In addition to water, they may consume homemade soups, broths, and smoothies made from fresh fruits and vegetables.

6. Improve activity levels

Toddlers with a sedentary lifestyle may be more susceptible to constipation and poor bowel movements. Encourage your toddler to indulge in physical activities and games. Aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities are great at improving the health and motility of the digestive tract.

7. Schedule poop breaks

If your toddler resists pooping, schedule potty time at the same time everyday, at least twice a day, preferably about 15 to 30 minutes after meals. Your body has a natural reflex to empty the bowel after eating. Slowly work up to having your toddler sit for at least 10-15 minutes at a time. It will help establish a poop routine, causing the toddler to feel the urge to go to the toilet at the same time each day. It could make the toddler stop withholding poop eventually.

When To See A Doctor?

If dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and positive reinforcement do not help, you may contact the child’s pediatrician. The doctor may look for the underlying cause, such as a health problem or psychological issue, and suggest relevant treatment or management strategies.

Toddlers holding poop is not uncommon; they show this behavior when constipated or when they have other health-related concerns. Some toddlers may also hold poop because they fear accidents and incorrect potty training. The typical signs of a toddler holding poop include appetite loss, gassiness, body stiffness, and discomfort. If you notice these signs and feel your toddler is holding their poop, it is best to consult a pediatrician who might comprehend the underlying cause and suggest some lifestyle measures for the toddler’s healthy bowel habits.

Key Pointers

  • Standing on toes, reduced appetite, clenching buttocks, and crossing legs are common signs of a toddler holding poop.
  • Fear of accidents, constipation, uncertain potty training, anxiety, engagement in play, or health issues can cause a toddler to hold the poop.
  • Appropriate potty training and treating the causes can help avoid complications of withholding the poop, such as abdominal pain, gasses, and UTIs in toddlers.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Constipation and Stool Withholding; Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
2. Stool Withholding in Children – more than ‘just constipation’; Eric The Children’s Bowel & Bladder Charity
3. What Should You Do When Your Kid Refuses to Poop; Cleveland Clinic
4. Strategies for dealing with soiling (Encopresis); Autistic Spectrum Disorders
5. Celiac Disease in Children; Celiac Disease Foundation
6. Hirschsprung\’s Disease; Boston Children\’s Hospital
7. Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children; Johns Hopkins Medicine
8. Fecal Impaction (Child); Fairview Health Services
9. Colonic Inertia; Medical University of South California
10. Hypothyroidism; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
11. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction; Seattle Children’s
12. Bedwetting: 5 Common Reasons Why Children Wet the Bed; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
13. Why We Talk about Poop for a Peeing Problem; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
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Dr. Arlene Dijamco

(MD)
Dr. Arlene Dijamco calls herself a 'MultiDimensional MD' with expertise in integrative medicine, pediatrics, and cranial osteopathy. She studied at Harvard, Emory, and Albert Einstein and then completed Dr. Andrew Weil’s two-year integrative medicine fellowship.  She is known for her intuitive knack, empowering people to nourish and balance all layers of health. Dr. Dijamco is passionate about helping make the... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. She also holds a certificate in lactation counselling from iNational Health... more