The day my son was born, my daughter had not defecated for 5 days, and her pain was getting pretty intense. My husband and his mom took her to Seattle Children’s Hospital for help, and they suggested using Miralax and sent them away. When they got back to my hospital room, my daughter was straining so hard it looked like she was about to give birth! Being physical therapists, my husband and I massaged her little muscles and told her to take deep breaths, and eventually she did the deed, yet not without a heart-breaking struggle. Little did I know then there is actually research to back up our emergency, instinctual technique.
Zivkovic et al (2012) performed a study regarding the use of diaphragmatic breathing exercises and retraining of the pelvic floor in children with dysfunctional voiding. They defined dysfunctional voiding as urinary incontinence, straining, weakened stream, feeling the bladder has not emptied, and increased EMG activity during the discharge of urine. Although this study focuses primarily on urinary issues, it also includes constipation in the treatment and outcomes. Forty-three patients between the ages of 5 and 13 with no neurological disorders were included in the study. The subjects underwent standard urotherapy (education on normal voiding habits, appropriate fluid intake, keeping a voiding chart, and posture while voiding) in addition to pelvic floor muscle retraining and diaphragmatic breathing exercises. The results showed 100% of patients were cured of their constipation, 83% were cured of urinary incontinence, and 66% were cured of nocturnal enuresis.
More recently, Farahmand et al (2015) researched the effect of pelvic floor muscle exercise for functional constipation in the pediatric population. Stool withholding and delayed colonic transit are most often the causes for children having difficulty with bowel movements. Behavioral modifications combined with laxatives still left 30% of children symptomatic. Forty children between the ages of 4 and 18 performed pelvic floor muscle exercise sessions at home, two times per day for 8 weeks. The children walked for 5 minutes in a semi-sitting (squatting) position while being supervised by parents. The patients increased the exercise duration 5 minutes per week for the first two weeks and stayed the same over the next six weeks. The results showed 90% of patients reported overall improvement of symptoms. Defecation frequency, fecal consistency and decrease in fecal diameter were all found to be significantly improved. Although not statistically significant, the number of patients with stool withholding, fecal impaction, fecal incontinence, and painful defecation decreased as well.
Parents may not be as aware of their children’s voiding habits once they are cleared from diaper duty after successful potty training occurs. To help prevent issues, keep the basics covered, such as making sure children are exercising regularly or being active, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a diet that includes plenty of fiber. My daughter was only 26 months old when her constipation became a problem, so the stool softener was ultimately the way to go at that time, and everything worked out naturally over the next year. If she were still experiencing functional constipation, I would be delighted to know teaching her pelvic floor exercises (relaxation being the key aspect) and diaphragmatic breathing could be effective for keeping my crazy little girl regular in at least that area of her life!
Zivkovic V, Lazovic M, Vlajkovic M, Slavkovic A, Dimitrijevic L, Stankovic I, Vacic N. (2012). Diaphragmatic breathing exercises and pelvic floor retraining in children with dysfunctional voiding. European J ournal of Physical Rehabilitation Medicine. 48(3):413-21. Epub 2012 Jun 5.
Farahmand, F., Abedi, A., Esmaeili-dooki, M. R., Jalilian, R., & Tabari, S. M. (2015). Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise for Paediatric Functional Constipation.Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR, 9(6), SC16–SC17. http://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2015/12726.6036