- A toddler should poop as little as once every 2-3 days, or as often as a couple of times per day.
- Constipation occurs in around 10% of toddlers during the second year of life
- If you’re worried about how often your toddler is pooping, you should visit a doctor
Toileting is such a big part of parenting in those early years. From their very first day of life, we’re asked to monitor our little ones’ poo and wee output to ensure they are taking enough breastmilk or formula.
And the monitoring continues from infancy into toddlerhood. You’ve probably wondered: did my child have a bowel movement today or was that yesterday? When should I start toilet training them?
And lately, you might be wondering: how often should a toddler poop?
How often should a toddler poop? Like many aspects of daily life: there’s a range of normal. Generally speaking, a toddler should poop as little as once every 2-3 days, or as often as a couple of times per day.
On average, it’s fair to say a toddler should poop once every day or two. In fact, studies found that:
- At least one bowel movement occurs every other day for a majority of healthy children (97%) aged 0-3 years.
- You can expect the frequency of bowel movements to decrease slightly after the second year , but thereafter to remain stable until the 12th year of age.
Once you’ve determined your toddler is having healthy regular bowel movements, you can identify their baseline, so that any concerns like constipation can be compared to this in future.
Constipation in toddlers
Constipation is reasonably common in early childhood. From a sample of 4157 children under two years of age, it was found that the prevalence rate for constipation in the second year of life was 10.1% . And it’s “one of the 10 most common problems seen by general paediatricians ”.
So, what is constipation exactly?
Many people think constipation is defined by going to the toilet less often than normal. But, there is more to it than that.
Constipation can be evidenced by hard stools . Or, even those more difficult to push out than normal, requiring more straining or pain. It’s also likely that in either of these circumstances, bowel movements are not regular. Another thing to pay attention to is how long it takes to evacuate the bowels .
No matter which signs of constipation your toddler is showing, it’s important to identify the cause and treat it, to prevent long-term toileting and bowel problems.
Possible causes for constipation in toddlers
Not enough fibre in the diet
Fibre softens stools and makes them easier to evacuate. If fibre is lacking in your toddler’s diet, this could be the reason why their stools are too hard, or require them to strain a lot to pass them.
If illness has caused your toddler to take in less food and water, then their output will also be reduced. This can cause stools to become dry and difficult to pass.
Too much milk vs. solids
If the amount of dairy your toddler is consuming is out of proportion with the amount of fruit and vegetables they are eating, then this can result in constipation.
Lack of physical activity
Physical activity aids optimal digestive function. If your toddler is too sedentary, their bowels may become sluggish, contributing to constipation.
Some medicines can impact digestion. If you suspect this is the case for your toddler, then please speak to your doctor.
Holding back poo
If a toddler is having a great time, they may ignore their urge to go to the toilet because they want to keep on playing.
Other times it’s a more serious issue. If a toddler has had one or more painful experiences while pooping , they can be afraid to go through that again and hold onto their stool . The problem is that the more they hold onto it, the larger the faecal mass that develops, causing another painful bowel motion and a vicious cycle of constipation.
Toilet training is a very common time for constipation in toddlers . This usually occurs if you are training them before they are ready or if they become stressed about using the toilet.
When should you seek medical attention for your toddler’s constipation?
It’s a good idea to visit your GP if your child is constipated, particularly if:
- You need to give them laxatives several times each year
- A laxative does not relieve the constipation
- It has been seven days without a poo
- Your toddler poops their pants without meaning to
- Their constipation is accompanied by: fever, weight loss, vomiting, blood in stool
- You have seen cracks in the skin around their anus
- You are concerned about low food and water intake
Treatment is best given early. In fact, it has been found “that constipated children <2 years of age responded better to treatment than children >2 years of age.”
How can you help your toddler maintain healthy bowel habits?
Encourage optimal positioning
When your toddler is using the toilet, it’s best to provide them with a step or stool so that they can have some leverage to make pushing easier.
A healthy diet
Pay close attention to how much fruit, vegetables and whole grains they are consuming . It’s important that they eat enough of these and that milk doesn’t constitute the majority of their diet .
Encourage a toileting routine
If you make it a habit for your toddler to sit on the toilet after each meal (and when they get the urge), it will give them plenty of opportunity to poop. It is most important that the time they are sitting on the toilet is unhurried . Any pressure just to “get on with it” could make them tense up and not go.
Offer rewards if necessary
Reward systems like sticker charts can make toileting more enjoyable for toddlers. It’s recommended you gear it towards successfully using the toilet or potty though - not about “having clean underpants”, because this can backfire and cause them to hold it in.
Provide enough exercise opportunities
Toddlers need at least three hours of physical activity each day . It’s important for healthy digestive function, as well as general physical and cognitive wellbeing.
Time at the park, playing in your backyard and riding their bike are all excellent ways to achieve the recommended three hours per day.
Final thoughts on how often a toddler should poop
There’s a range on how often a toddler should poop - not one definitive answer. But, ideally your toddler should be pooping as little as once every 2-3 days, or as often as a couple of times per day. On average, that’s once every day or two.
If they are pooping less frequently than this, or if you believe they are constipated for any other reason, it’s a good idea to make a doctor’s appointment for your toddler and get appropriate medical advice.