Our Struggle with Poop Withholding

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Emma started holding in her poop in September of 2017. After a rough six months, we have it under control! I can empathize if you’re going through poop withholding, too.

It all started when Emma got a fever and got a bit constipated. The experience of having to push out that hard poop made her not want to do it again! So she held in her poops, causing more constipation, messes, and pain. She would cross her legs and squeeze her little butt cheeks together to keep it in. If I tried to get her to sit on the potty or carry her there, she would scream at me! And after about a week, there would be so much built up that little bits would leak out and make messes. Does this sound familiar to you?

We tried everything…

I tried leaving her to sit on the potty in front of the TV, sometimes for an hour at a time. Or I would get her set up with her Fire Kids tablet and headphones in her bathroom. We reduced dairy, increased fiber, did timed potty breaks, rewards, sticker charts… None of it got her moving. One night I even cried to my husband that I felt like such a bad mom that my kid wouldn’t even do something as natural as going number two!

We weren’t alone!

I was lucky enough to find a friend who had been through something similar with her own children. And I found a few websites, especially this one, that were great resources. It was nice to know that other families were going through poop withholding and that we weren’t alone.

To the doctor’s office!

We finally went to the pediatrician in December, who was amazing! He even had printouts ready to go, since poop withholding and constipation are actually pretty common. The usual recommendations are making sure the kid is eating their fruits and veggies, giving them time to go at the same time every day, and making sure that they’re comfortable and secure on the potty with a potty seat and stool. But for Emma’s specific case, he recommended using Miralax, first in a higher dose to clear her out, then in a lower dose to get her used to having soft, comfortable poops (that she couldn’t hold in!).

Dosage issues…

The clear-out phase was traumatic for all of us! After months of not pooping consistently, having to go so much and so often was upsetting for Emma. Then it took a month of adjustments to get the dose right. I had to keep going lower and lower, and for that whole month she was having leaks in her undies multiple times a day.

We had potty trained in January 2017 (almost a year before the doctor’s appointment), but with all the messes I put Emma back in Pull-ups full time. After a week or so I noticed she was going pee in the Pull-ups again! I felt like such a failure as a mom – all the work we had done potty training was for nothing!

Thankfully, on December 31st, Emma told me she had to go poopy, then did a big, solid poop. There were no leaks or accidents that day! Hallelujah! The next two weeks were a bit bumpy but there was clear progress, and by February she was pooping about once a day, having no accidents, and back to undies full time.

The end was in sight!

After a month of regularity, it was time to taper off the Miralax. It’s important not to do it too quickly, so they don’t get constipated and start the whole cycle over again! We did it over a full month, taking away a quarter of her dose each week.

Now, Emma is pooping once a day (usually right before bedtime), letting me know clearly when she has to go, and is not having accidents! It seems that poop withholding is behind us. She still expects a Swedish fish for every poop though!

Some feelings about laxatives…

It felt weird for me to put my three-year-old on laxatives. I read some scary things on the Internet, like “Miralax is one molecule away from formaldehyde!!!! Don’t poison your children!!!!!” However, I also read some scary things about kids who had to have surgery to have intestinal blockages removed. And I trust my pediatrician’s wisdom and experience. Emma didn’t have any other side effects, and as a relatively short-term solution Miralax did exactly what it was supposed to. Her body didn’t become dependent on it, either.

If your child is experiencing poop withholding, please go see to your pediatrician. He or she can recommend a treatment that is just right for your child. And don’t be like me and wait longer than necessary because you’re afraid of being judged – if I would have taken Emma to the doctor when all this first started, it would have been over in half the time!

Is your child having number two problems, too? Let me know in the comments!

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My three-year-old daughter struggled with constipation just a few times before she started holding in her poop on purpose. This was stressful and concerning to both of us! Thankfully, with the help of our doctor, poop withholding is behind us. Read our story and how we conquered poop withholding! | Fulfill & Thrive

20 thoughts on “Our Struggle with Poop Withholding”

  • Thank you so much for your openness and comments. My husband and I are so stressed and tired of dealing with this. This was good for me to read and know we are not alone. Our son refuses to go poop in a toilet. He is fully potty trained other than that. Only wants the pull up to poop. Sleeps through the night without pull ups, never needs one until he has the urge to poop. Thank you for some new ideas. Hoping we can make some progress over the summer.

    • I know how frustrating that can feel, Karla! Aside from what the post says, I came across a lot in my research that pee-training and poop-training are pretty much two separate things. Some kids can do them at the same time but for others, poop can take longer to figure out. Every day of poop withholding can be stressful, but I promise there will be an end! Good luck to you!

    • This is the first article I’ve read on Pinterest to help my two and a half year old with her poop withholding problem . I have felt so alone. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It was very helpful.

      • So glad it helped, Heather! It was a little strange to write all about my daughter’s poop on the Internet (LOL!), but it’s worth it to help so many other moms in the same position!

  • Omg thanks for your article. I was scared of giving my daughter miralax but she has been holding her poop on and off for months. Just when I think she is over it she starts holding it in again. I give her tons of fiber and natural constipation remedies but the problem is her. She has incredible power to hold it in. I’ve had to use suppositories when I see her in pain. She cant sit down or sleep. It is a nightmare but I am going to the doctor for sure now. I guess a little miralax won’t be too bad.

    • Thanks Pahola! Yes, definitely head to the doctor to get the dose right. It’s a long battle but better to get it taken care of now. Emma’s been off Miralax for almost six months now and she goes number two just like any other kid – there is hope!!

  • Thank you so much for your sharing your awful experience of poop withholding. I’m so so happy to have read the exact same situation I’m in right now. I’m writing this from my bed at 2am as 10 minutes before, my 3 year old had woken up screaming, only for me to take her nappy off and see a giant poop sitting halfway! After 1 hour of trying to convince her to push (whilst screaming at the top of her lungs at me) I had to make the awful decision to put a new nappy back on and allow her to go back to sleep. I’m off to the doctor’s in the morning for sure as it breaks my heart every time this happens, which is roughly every 2 days!

    • Thanks for commenting, Emily! I’m so sorry this is happening to you too. Emma did the same thing too a few times – I think they finally relax when they’re asleep! Good call on taking her to the doctor. It’s been over six months since we stopped Miralax and Emma is still doing great. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!!

  • Thank you for this article. Our daughter is going to be five. She will not poop on the potty. She has been withholding since we have been not giving her the pull ups. Twice she just pooped in her underwear. I am super scared of miralax after everything I’ve read about it. Two years ago, she held it in for five days so we had to use it and just let her use pull ups since, because we figured she just wasn’t ready. However, with kindergarten coming up, I have to get her ready. We went to a poop therapist and are doing what he says but she still won’t go. She says it won’t come out. I am trying every other alternative to miralax, but it’s not working. Tonight, we told her she could use a pull up because she was walking around, obviously holding it in and saying her butt hurts. Am I going to have to use miralax?! Ugh… We may have to in order to get her over the hump… Thanks again. There really isn’t anyone to talk to about this!! Xoxo

    • Hi Anna Maria! Thanks so much for your comment! I totally understand what you’re going through… It feels so lonely to have a kid who just doesn’t want to poop! As your daughter gets older and starts school, I would think it’s important to do what it takes to get her going regularly and get her comfortable with the whole idea of pooping. There’s a lot of scary misinformation out there about miralax. Much of it is fear-mongering and just false! I know that for us, miralax was the solution that finally worked. Of course, I can’t give you medical advice – but I would get help from a medical doctor who can diagnose a problem and order tests to make sure her intestines are still healthy after years of withholding. As I wrote in the post, I had my daughter on miralax for less than six months total. She’s now going on five too, and she has healthy poops, doesn’t hold them in, and loves announcing that she went poopy and I need to come wipe her butt! Best of luck with figuring this out – it will be a long road but it’s worth it to see your baby happy and healthy!

    • I’m so glad to have found this post, I’m close to tears this afternoon over this. My daughter is 3 and we have been dealing with poo witholding for probably two years now. There must have been a time when it was sore and put her off going. She used to hold it for days, up to a week, until finally it had to come and she would scream for hours in pain with the size and hardness. The doctor has prescribed movicol which she has been on for over a year to help keep the stool soft so when she eventually does go it isn’t sore. So at least it isn’t painful anymore. But she will still hold it, probably not as long as before, but still not going when she should and you see her clenching until the urge has passed. She showed signs of wanting to potty train a long time ago so we followed her lead and she was doing great and had barely any pee accidents (and definitely no poo accidents as she will hold that!). But she is now going backwards and holding pees in now too. She is going all day without a pee, like 10hrs or more to the point where we put a pull up on just to get her to pee as I’m worried she’ll get a UTI and be scared of pees too. I try and speak to her about why she isn’t peeing and she just says she needs a poo, she must be worried if she pees the poo will come too. But even when the nappy goes on she won’t poo straight away. People try offering advice about diet etc but it’s not constipation, it’s her choosing not to go. Unless people have been through it, they have no idea how difficult it is and how it is a daily struggle. I’m at my wits end and think it’s time we return to the doctors for a different strategy whether it’s laxatives or therapy! Thank you for posting this, it helps a little to know we are not alone!

      • Hi Tori! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and I’m so glad my post could give you some comfort. Yes, poop withholding is so different from constipation! Maybe it starts that way, but once they choose to start holding it in, it’s such a challenge. Laxatives worked for us, and even though it was difficult (and messy), it actually worked! Our whole saga only lasted about six months, which I realize is nothing compared to some other families. Best of luck and do what’s right for your family!

  • I withheld until I was around 8. It was traumatic and caused many issues, even as an adult in my 30s. So when my 2 year old son started withholding after a bad diaper rash, I was pretty worried.

    The doctor prescribed miralax but my pharmacy was out and had to order it. Hes still in diapers and will not keep his hands out when he leaks. It’s been awful. I’m glad to hear the miralsx works. I can not wait to get started on it this week and get this behind us.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, TL! It definitely can take a few months to start working but Emma is now 5 and has no problems going number 2. Hope you can say the same for your little one!

  • Hi, I’m dealing with something with my two year old. I Tried everything there is for her.i toke her to the doctor’s. They said to give her merlax also it worked for one day, but how much should I be giving her? I feel so bad for her. I cry don’t want anything to happen to her in the long run. She drinks Lactate milk. Help

    • Hi Norine! I’m not a doctor so I can’t give you medical advice. But I will tell you that with Emma, I started with the smallest possible about and went up from there until we found a dose that worked. Wishing the best for you and your daughter!

  • Thank you for this article! My 5 year old son, who just started kindergarten this week, won’t poop in the potty!! I’m beyond stressed out about it, as I’m sure he is too! He was crying this morning because he has to go, and didn’t want to go to school. I’ve talked to his ped, and she recommended miralax every day as well. He’s also signed up for a toilet training clinic. He was very late being potty trained, he refused underwear for a very long time! He just started wearing them this May. I feel horrible sending him to school this way… I don’t want him to have accidents or be embarrassed. He gets constipated and will withhold, then he gets so backed up we’ve had to give him child enemas… and we all know that’s traumatizing! I hope it doesn’t take too long to get him comfortable going. This is way too stressful!!

    • Hi Renee! I’m so sorry for what’s going on with your son. My daughter just started kindergarten, and I think every parent is a little worried about the potty situation!! I’m glad you’ve already gone to the doctor about this. My only other advice would be: don’t blame yourself! Moms put so much pressure on ourselves and when something doesn’t happen perfectly with our kids, we automatically think it’s our own fault. Remember that your son is the one with this problem and it’s your job to help him through it… Not that you created the problem and now he’s suffering from it. It’s amazing how much a change in perspective can take the pressure off both of you!

  • Thank you so much for this! My almost 2 year old has been struggling with constipation for a while and it started off with having hard stools to now her stools are normal but she just won’t go!! She’s scared and traumatized for the pain. I’ve tried so many different remedies and she is on a better fiber diet now that helps but our main issue is the HOLDING in her poop and it’s sooo frustrating. It’s gotten to the point where she is waking up sometimes at night because of her tummy hurting. Normally I have to help her go by holding her knees up to her stomach & most of the time she resists but ends up pushing it out. She isn’t potty trained yet because she’s afraid of the toilet now. This post makes me feel like I’m not alone because lately I have been so stressed and sad for my daughter.

    • Hi Anna! I totally understand what you’re going though and thanks for sharing your experience! It’s a hard process to help kids realize that pooping doesn’t hurt every time. The miralax helped us, but if you’re not ready to try that, check out prunes and prune juice. It really works!!

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