Laxatives For Children: Safety, Types and Precautions

As crucial as knowing laxatives' benefits for kids is understanding their safety concerns.

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Laxatives are medicines that help relieve constipation and promote smooth bowel movements. Around one in ten children experience constipation, and laxatives are essential in easing the condition (1).

Laxatives are advised when lifestyle modifications, such as drinking plenty of water, adding more fiber to the diet, and physical activity do not help (2). They are available as over-the-counter medications for treating chronic constipation. However, it is advisable to consult healthcare providers before considering laxatives, so they assess your child’s condition and prescribe the right dosage (3).

Read the post to learn about the types, usage, safety, and duration of using laxatives for children.

How Do Laxatives Work, And Are They Safe For Children?

Sometimes, constipation in children becomes so severe that no dietary changes or exercise routine help to resolve it. In such circumstances, laxatives can treat bowel disorders and improve bowel movements. In addition, they soften the stools, resolve the painful stool passage, and establish healthy bowel habits in children (4).

Laxatives work in three ways to relieve constipation. (3):

  • Some soften the stool, making it easier to pass through the intestine
  • Some push the stool out of the intestine
  • Some wash the intestines completely

It is not recommended to use laxatives for children unless advised by a doctor. Incorrect consumption can cause health problems (5).

How Long Can Your Child Take Laxatives?

Your child might take laxatives for months to years. The medicine is suggested until your child finds relief from constipation and learns to manage bowel habits. Your healthcare provider might adjust the dose over some time. If the laxative treatment is stopped early, it can lead to chronic constipation (3) (6).

What Types Of Laxatives Are Available For Children?

Laxatives are mainly divided into four types depending on how they work in the body (2) (7):

Bulk-forming laxatives

  • Help by absorbing more fluid in the intestines
  • Increase the bulk of the stool, causing an urge to pass a motion
  • Safe for regular use and work within two or three days
  • Fibercon, Perdiem, and bran are bulk-forming laxatives

Stool-softening laxatives

  • Make the stool soft by letting water into it
  • Work if taken with lots of water
  • Colace and Docusate are some stool softeners

Osmotic laxatives

  • Make the stool soft by drawing fluids from the rest of the body into the intestine.
  • Require intake of more water
  • Take two to three days to work
  • Milk of Magnesia and non-absorbable sugars such as lactulose act as osmotic laxatives

Stimulant laxatives

  • Help in moving the stool through the intestine by stimulating its lining
  • Not recommended for regular use because they might cause children to become dependent on them
  • Start working within 6 to 12 hours
  • Correctol and Dulcolax are some stimulant laxatives

Which Are The Safe Laxatives For Children?

There are specific laxatives safe for children (3) (8):

  • Lactulose: This is a liquid stool softener and is most commonly recommended for children. It tastes better when mixed with juice or milk. Children must brush their teeth after taking this laxative.
  • Macrogol: This powder can be used either as a stool softener or for a bowel washout. It treats hard stools.
  • Liquid paraffin or mineral oil: This acts as a stool softener and should be taken in small quantities, as it can make the stool oily. It tastes better with chocolate milk or orange juice.
  • Docusate/poloxalkol: This works as a stool softener and comes in the form of tablets or drops. It is recommended for children below three years.
  • Senna: Available as a tablet or granule, Senna stimulates the intestines to move the stools. It is recommended taking at night, so the bowels are emptied in the morning. Senna is not ideal for a long time use as it can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea.
  • Sodium picosulphate: This laxative is used for bowel washout and should be given only on a doctor’s recommendation.
  • Psyllium husk fibre: This is a mild natural laxative that helps soften the stools. You can give it to your children by mixing in their food.
  • Suppositories and mini-enemas: These are small tablets placed into the child’s rectum. They are not as effective as oral laxatives and are given to children with severe constipation. You should never give enemas without the recommendation of a doctor. Glycerine suppository laxatives are also used for treating constipation in infants.

Sometimes, severe cases of constipation are treated by a procedure called bowel irrigation. It requires admission to the hospital. A bowel prep drink is given or put into their stomach through a tube.

What Precautions To Follow While Taking Laxatives?

Some precautions you should consider while giving laxatives to children are (7) (9):

  • Give laxatives with plenty of water or fluids
  • Use stimulant laxatives with caution, as they may cause some changes in the intestines
  • Stimulant laxatives decrease the body’s ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D, weakening the bones
  • Bulking laxatives are safe for regular use
  • Do not overuse laxatives
  • Give dosages according to the doctor’s recommendation

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are laxatives harmful to children?

When taken in recommended doses, laxatives aren’t harmful to children. However, an overdose of laxatives may cause issues such as diarrhea, bloody stools, severe abdominal pain, and a drop in blood pressure (10).

2. When should laxatives be avoided for children?

Children should not take laxatives unless directed by their healthcare provider. They should also not take laxatives if they are unwell or have signs of bowel inflammation, such as vomiting, abdominal pain, or cramping.

3. What is the best time to take laxatives?

Generally, experts advise taking laxatives on an empty stomach for effectiveness. Yet, it is best to speak to your doctor about when and how much laxatives you can give your child.

4. What if my child can’t poop after taking laxatives?

The doctor may choose other treatment modalities, such as biofeedback therapy or surgery, based on the child’s age, overall health, and underlying issues.

Choosing the right laxative depends on your child’s age and the severity of the problem. Take the help of the doctor to build a proper treatment plan. Follow-up closely to adjust the dosage and duration of the medication with the doctor’s recommendation. Encourage children to develop healthy bowel habits and remember not to stress over the condition.

Key Pointers

  • Laxatives are administered when dietary changes and exercises do not help relieve constipation in children.
  • Lactulose, docusate, and psyllium husk fiber are some laxatives considered safe for children.
  • Giving the prescribed dosages and consuming plenty of water are some precautions that should be taken.


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