Stool softeners for my toddler: asking the right medication questions

Constipation is a pain. Literally. Especially if you are a young child. My two-year-old daughter has been battling it since she was one. It is really hard to watch your happy child running around, laughing and playing one minute and then a minute later standing on her tiptoes with a red strained face, crying in pain. You try to get close and comfort her and she looks at you with tears running down her face and says “no.” Even she knows her mother’s comforting touch won’t help her go to the bathroom.

For months we tried most of the household remedies offered by friends and family: don’t give her so much milk, try this expensive liquid you can get at your local co-op, take her for a walk, give her a bunch of fiber-rich foods and have her drink a lot of fluids. Every day our fingers were crossed that things would change and this would no longer be a daily battle for her. But none of this seemed to make a difference.

Our doctor recommended a daily osmotic stool softener. This medicine works by drawing water from the body into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. It comes in a tasteless powder that can be mixed with fruit juice, milk or another fluid, and most kids will take it without noticing.

I didn’t want to start her on a daily medicine at such a young age. But the doctor explained that kids will start to associate going to the bathroom with pain and start holding the stool, making the problem worse. I had so many questions I needed answered before I could feel comfortable using this over-the-counter medicine.

I asked my doctor:

  • How many doses will it take before it starts working?
  • How long will she be on it?
  • How will we know when she no longer needs it?
  • Will her body start depending on it?
  • If we don’t give it to her, what other treatments would you recommend?
  • Would you give it to your own daughter?

I asked the pharmacist:

  • Will it impact how her body absorbs vitamins and minerals?
  • Can it build up in her body? How likely is an overdose?
  • Are there certain foods she can’t mix it with?
  • Are there any side effects or reasons we should stop taking it and call the doctor?

After speaking with our doctor and pharmacist, we decided it was the right choice for our daughter. We went home and gave it to her. I am so glad we knew it would take a while before it started working. A couple of days after she started, it began working. After a bunch of trial and error we found a daily routine for giving her the medication and making sure she would get the right dose. We started at 3 teaspoons once a day and we are now at 1.5 teaspoons a day.

What is my daughter’s life like today? She’s a happy, energetic toddler who no longer cries when she needs to go to the bathroom. Instead, she looks at me and says “Potty?” with a confident understanding that this simple one-word question will cause me to run frantically around the house, locating the frog training toilet.

Even though I am glad we decided to give her the stool softener, I am super excited about someday not giving it to her.

Regardless of the health issues or treatment options, every person is different. What works for one person may not be right for another. Take an active role in deciding what makes sense for your health, beliefs and lifestyle.

The next time a health care provider prescribes a medication for you, ask him or her and your pharmacist these important questions.

For your health care provider:

  1. What is the name of the medication?
  2. What does it treat?
  3. How will I know if it is working?
  4. What side effects can I expect?
  5. What should I do if I have a problem?
  6. How do I take the medication?
  7. How do I schedule the medication? For example, does “four times a day” mean I have to take in the middle of the night?
  8. If the medication is on an “as-needed” basis, is there a limit to how often or how much I can take?
  9. What do I do if I miss a dose?
  10. Are there foods, drinks (including alcohol), other medications or activities I should avoid while taking this medication? For example, does this medication make it unsafe for me to drive?

Questions for your pharmacist:

  1. Do you have a complete list of the medications I take, including over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements? (If not, share your current medication list with your pharmacist at each visit.)
  2. Is there written information I should have about my medications?
  3. If needed, can the prescription label and/or other written information be printed in large print or my native language?
  4. What is the most important thing I should know about my medication?
  5. When do I stop taking the medication?
  6. How and where should I store my medication?
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