Travelling and constipation

I was recently asked for advice or "tips" about how to prevent constipation when travelling with children.

It is fairly common for young children to become constipated when their normal eating and sleeping schedules are disrupted.

For example, a number of parents have told me that their child first became constipated while driving between Seattle and California to visit Disneyland, in some cases necessitating an ER visit along the way. Vacation trips are especially difficult for kids because of having to eat at different times and in different surroundings. Kids also become constipated when travelling because of dehydration and insufficient exercise.

To prevent constipation while traveling, I recommend that...

...parents do the best they can to maintain their child's usual eating, nap and bed times and to be sure that their child drinks extra fluids and gets plenty of exercise.

As I say in my book, The Ins and Outs of Poop, our GI tract "likes" exercise: exercise helps us poop. So, if driving a long distance, make frequent stops to let your child walk or run around a bit before sitting on the potty. If you're in an airplane, use the times when the food and beverage carts are not in the way to walk your child up and down the aisle a few times.

PS. All of these recommendations for avoiding constipation apply to adults as well!

No "summer breaks" from encopresis treatment!

It may be tempting to "take a break" from encopresis treatment when traveling, but it's important to remember that even a week off can undo months of hard work.  Traveling with encopresis does require additional planning.  I know it can be complicated but laxatives, sitting times, pushing and incentive programs (e.g. star charts) must be continued to ensure daily bowel movements. And don't forget to keep filling out your Weekly Laxative and Stool Record!

When visiting with friends or relatives, I advise that you explain beforehand, preferably in private, that your child has a potty problem (the term "chronic constipation" is generally easily understood -- most adults can imagine what this feels like) and that what you are doing is necessary in order to make his/her problem go away. You may be embarrassed to talk about your child’s problem with people whom you don’t see very often but just imagine how embarrassed you (and your child!) will feel if he or she has an accident in their home and you have not talked with them about it beforehand.

Take my books, "The Ins and Outs of Poop" and "Softy the Poop" with you just in case you encounter someone who has their own ideas about your child’s problem and how they think you should deal with it. You know the people I’m talking about! 


Don't poop in the swimming pool!

This is a very real concern for parents of children with encopresis, especially on hot summer days at the community pool or when vacationing at a fancy resort.

Parents frequently ask if I think it's okay for their child to swim in a public or private pool provided that she is wearing a swim diaper or that she promises to get out of the pool if she needs to go to the bathroom.

The problem is that swim diapers are not leak proof and children who soil are even less likely to recognize and respond to urgency while swimming than when not swimming. The risk of an accident is further increased by the fact that our large intestine "likes" exercise in the sense that it often triggers peristalsis and a strong urge to poop. The risk of extreme embarrassment if poop is seen in the water and the pool needs to be immediately shut down, is just too high to take the chance.

What I recommend is that a child with encopresis not be allowed to swim in a pool unless he or she has at least one good size bowel movement within an hour or two of going into a pool.

For many children, to be able to go swimming is a powerful incentive to have a bowel movement. For those children who have to sit out because they are unable or unwilling to have a bowel movement, I believe that their disappointment is outweighed by the risk of the embarrassment they (and you!) will experience if they are responsible for everyone having to get out of the water.