Let’s Talk About Poo


I know, I know; I can hear you scraping your chairs closer already.

When you’re childless (or childfree, depending on your viewpoint) you’re fairly certain you know how to bring up a child, could do better than the frazzled looking mum in the supermarket with her screaming children, have the best ideas on nutrition and discipline etc. Not exempt from this is constipation. I don’t know about you guys, but my child would never be constipated because I’d feed her right.

Unfortunately, life’s not that simple.

Isabel has never been a big pooper. Even in her first 6 months while she was still exclusively breastfed, she would poo as little as once every 2 weeks. This isn’t uncommon in breastfed babies because mum’s milk is the “perfect” food and almost totally digested by the body.

Anyway, at 6 months when we introduced food (and I mean good, healthy homecooked food; fruit and vegetables etc) it took her 16 days to finally poo. By this point I’d totally cut out solid food 3 days previously and had gone back to exclusive breastfeeding. In the end I resorted to giving her a few teaspoons of warm sugar-water which seemed to work (or was a big fat coincidence, you know).

As you can imagine, that poo was quite uncomfortable for her. Subsequent poos, whilst more frequent, weren’t really that much better. I mean, without wanting to get into too much detail, they weren’t hard but they definitely weren’t what she was used to.

In hindsight, we should have sought help then. Instead we asked around, did a bit of Googling, fed Izzy prunes and as much veg as she would eat (and she ate it, she loved veg) and made it up as we went along.

Somewhere around the 8-9 month mark, problems ongoing, Isabel started showing what we thought was a reaction to egg. If she ate egg in the day, she would be up all night screaming. Literally up. She wouldn’t lie down. The only way to get her to sleep was to prop her on our chest and rub her back. Of course this meant bugger all sleep for me but needs must and all that. We cut out egg completely (it didn’t help). I lived on 2 hours sleep a night for about 3 months.

Around the same time, Isabel started showing weird behaviours towards pooing. For a long time, we thought she was having trouble going (duh) because she’d pull herself up, stand completely rigid, grip tightly onto a piece of furniture and go purple in the face. I learned to pick up on these signs, at which point I’d grab her and ‘force’ her legs into a squat position to make it easier to go, because I thought it’d help.

Around 12 months, problems STILL ongoing, I went back to work. Within days, Isabel started pooing 2-3 times a day. Nice soft poos, exactly as she should at that age. At Christmas, I had 2 weeks off, and she stopped pooing again. Sigh. (I didn’t make the connection between me being there, and not being there, until later on.)

Post-Christmas we decided we were not willing to get back into the no-sleep / no-poo mess we’d been in previously, and so we finally sought proper help.

It turns out that Isabel wasn’t having problems going. She was stool withholding. Her early experiences pooing meant that she was scared to go, so she’d hold in her poop, which meant it built up and became hard, which meant it hurt when she went, which meant she was scared to go, which … well, you see the pattern. By holding Izz into a squat position I was preventing her from withholding successfully, but (and this is only my theory, I must add) at the same time creating a negative poop association with me, hence pooing fine for my mum after I’d gone back to work.

Isabel started on lactulose to treat the constipation early in the year. It took over a month to find the right dose for her (20ml a day, the max a child her age can take) and a week of taking that dose before we saw any effect. She started pooping regularly on Thursday 3rd March and has gone every day bar two since then. Some days she’s gone twice, or even three times.

I’m not sharing this poopy tale of woe because I think the majority of my readers are interested. I recognise that most of you don’t even have children yet. Also, the irony of posting about poo the day after berating mommy bloggers is not lost on me. Nonetheless, I despair that a problem so common (infant stool withholding and childhood constipation) is discussed so little. If only I had known we could have sorted Isabel out straight away. Pratting about with prunes is all well and good if your kid has a low fibre diet, but when they’re already eating all the right foods it really is time to look for a solution elsewhere.

If your worried about your baby’s bowels and want more advice, I can recommend highly ‘Constipation, Withholding and Your Child: A Family Guide to Soiling and Wetting’ by Anthony Cohn, ISBN: 9781843104919 (that’s a clean link, no affiliate tagging). Don’t wait, get it sorted: for their sake and yours.

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

12 comments so far

  1. Rebecca said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I actually find that very interesting. The psychological effects on Izz are actually quite neat — the fact that mum being around and having the squat formation pushed on her actually affected her behaviour. Is Izz fine with pooping with you around now? I guess you could try reversing the negative emotions with her, by perhaps rubbing her back and smiling when she’s trying :)

    IMO (though I’m not a mum – yet! :D) I would try to wean her off the additives/doses and attempt a recovery on the psychological aspect.

  2. Carly said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Yeah I actually found it interesting & I have no kid (just a dog with bowel problems of his own at the moment!) but the psychology of her withholding is pretty interesting.

  3. Mumblies said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Once upon a time way back hundreds of years ago (it seems like that some days) there were such a thing as Health visitors, now I know that these strange creatures do still exist, but it seems that the ones around now are mostly 18 year olds who have neither had kids, nor seem to have any common sense at all (or so it seems)…

    My last experience was with one such so called “health visitor” she was about 19 or so, and bearing in mind that I was much much older, and already had 4 kids imagine my disgust when she decided that SHE knew better than I did re: breastfeeding and looking after my child in general.

    For starters she asked me to ‘sit behind this screen to BF my son so as “not to offend those that choose to bottle feed” (boy did she get a rather rude and unexpected result from that!) but she generally inferred that she knew far more about BF than I did and kept on and on that she knew best and implying that I did not know a thing about how to look after my baby, telling me that now baby was almost 3 months old I should be thinking about dropping that nonsense (BFeeding) and concentrating on getting him on solids and formula feeding!

    When I asked her how many babies she’d had the answer was none, when I asked her how then did she presume to know more about the subject than I did? Her answer was to tell me that “I’ve done all the childcare courses at college” but soon shut her mouth when I told her to come back when she had as much experience with babies as I did then…fortunately for the young lady the most senior HV, whom I knew well popped her head around the door and said “Oh that’s Mrs T, you don’t need to pester her – she knows far more than you do!”

    The reason I mentioned this is referring back to your post Jem about poo etc I cannot help but wonder where all those well trained, experienced Health Visitors disappeared to? Why are there no clinics with people who DO know what they are on about for young mums to seek advice? The ‘old school’ ladies knew about everything, gave sound advice and knew when/if it was needed to send you to see the Doc or just offered their own opinions based on their own experiences. Why has the NHS let so many good people go and not replaced them?

    This problem with Izz refusing to poo is not uncommon, many babies will baulk at things and once the habit sets in it is so hard to break which in turn causes this vicious circle of retaining her poo/pain/etc as you know yourself Jem, but I’m certain that so long as you keep an eye on things and if she shows signs of constipation you pop her some lactulose she should be ok and hopefully as she grows older and her digestive system matures she will eventually settle down into going regularily and with luck you won’t have to be quite so attentive to her ‘goings’ and be able to enjoy her growing up far more. :) Obviously it is better for Izz to wean her off as soon as you can, no baby should have to take any medicine unless really necessary.

    However, as I’ve said before and will do again – you ARE a good mum and you are doing brilliantly so don’t be so hard on yourself and doubting your abilities.

  4. Jem said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    @Rebecca: the thing is, the only way to attack the psychological aspect is to treat her for as long as it takes for her to forget. No amount of smiling/back-rubbing will help there.

    The good news is that since I wrote this post (over a week ago – scheduled posting ;)) Izz has had reduced doses. The past 3 days she’s had 0 :D I’m glad, because it takes YEARS of much harsher laxatives to treat some kids :(

  5. Stephanie said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    As one of your readers about a decade younger than you, thanks for posting this. I didn’t know that babies tried to prevent themselves from pooping at all. I’ll keep this in mind when I have my own children in 10 years or so.

  6. Katy said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    ahhhh, I’d rather read poorly disguised product adverts (oh sorry, I mean ‘impartial reviews) than read about Isabel’s poo!!

    I hope your month of daily posts includes some geekery/ranting/idiot abuse to make up for this tmi.. or a good dose of mind bleach, hahah ;)

  7. Karl said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Aren’t you glad I bought that book? ;)

    Izz is such a happy child once again, it was worth every penny.

  8. Karen said:
    On April 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    @Katy: Grow up a bit…

    I found this mighty interesting. I don’t know why people feel so uncomfortable about body functions that are NECESSARY to live.

  9. Sharlotte said:
    On April 4, 2011 at 6:18 am

    Found this quite interesting because even though I’m far from being a mommy right now (20 years old), I’ve had this problem as a child also :( It came in intervals and at different ages – my worse was when I was five and six, I would hold it in also because I was scared to go just like your daughter. My parents would do everything in their power to make me go by making me eat so many prunes and vegetables and using enema bottles (I can’t look at those bottles without wanting to cry) I really hope your daughter doesn’t go through this at an older age, it gets a traumatizing! Thought I was the only weird person who had a childhood like that!

  10. Ellie said:
    On April 4, 2011 at 7:43 am

    My little sister is like this too! She’s potty training and she’s always scared of pooing.

  11. Tanya said:
    On April 4, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I had absolutely no idea this was such a common problem – fortunately Sam has always been regular as clockwork so I’ve never had a reason to look into it I suppose.

    I’m so glad things are improving Jem, no wonder you were getting so little sleep a while back.

  12. Anthony said:
    On April 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Ahh Elodie went through the same sort of thing. Though we got her on to Lactulose after a couple of weeks it took ages for her to regular again.

    We’d heard of the withholding thing, but we couldn’t really find a pattern for it with her – it didn’t matter who was looking after her. She obviously just didn’t like pooing!

    Got there eventually, though we went through quite a few repeat pescriptions and doses before we cut it out. It’s actually the only medicine we’ve ever got into her.