When young kids refuse to poop

Pediatrician Jay Gordon, MD, shares advice for parents on why children withhold stool and how to best overcome the issue
When to Do When Your Child Withholds Poop
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When young kids refuse to poop

I get a lot of calls and I talk with a lot of parents about constipation. Most of the time, the kids are not really constipated. They are stool withholding, also known as encopresis. They have made a decision about when and where they want to poop and they don't care what you want. Sometimes this happens around potty training when someone has judged a child and said, "Big boys don't wear diapers," or "There's no more diapers for your poop." The child will look you in the eye and say, there won't be another poop for a week. They can control their poop. They can get good at it. They will hold it in for a day or two or three. I regard it as a pretty urgent issue because it's emotional. It's not a gastrointestinal issue, although it can get to be a problem. What I tell parents is that they need to stop talking about poop and allow the child to lead potty training. Use natural stool softeners whenever possible, prunes and prune juice or something similar. You can talk to the doctor about less than natural stool softeners. Interrupt all discussion of poop with the child because the child enjoys the discussion. It's a relatively urgent issue if your child is withholding stools. It's rarely constipation. Talk to your doctor because it should be dealt with urgently.

Pediatrician Jay Gordon, MD, shares advice for parents on why children withhold stool and how to best overcome the issue


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Jay Gordon, MD


Jay Gordon, MD, FAAP, IBCLC - In the middle of his residency training, pediatrician Jay Gordon took an unusual step. Deciding that he needed greater knowledge about nutrition, vitamins, and alternative medicine in order to practice medicine the way he wanted to, Dr. Gordon took a Senior Fellowship in Pediatric Nutrition at Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City. After his residency at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Dr. Gordon joined the teaching attending faculty at UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Intensely interested in infant nutrition and breastfeeding, Dr. Gordon is the first male physician to sit for and pass the International Board of Lactation Certification Exam and has served on the Professional Advisory Board of La Leche League for 24 years.

In addition to treating patients, he participates in the training of medical students and residents, lectures all over the world, writes books, and writes a monthly column for “Fit Pregnancy” magazine. He has contributed to “New York Parent,” “Parenting” magazine and has been quoted in the L.A. Times, New York Times, and The London Times.

Dr. Gordon’s first book, the well-received Good Food Today, Great Kids Tomorrow, offers a life-changing plan for families who want to make dramatic changes in health and fitness through nutrition. Brighter Baby examines the positive effect that attachment parenting, combined with infant massage, has on children’s health and intelligence. Other releases include: Good Night! The Parents’ Guide to the Family Bed and Hug Your Baby, a Gentle Guide through the First Year, which was released summer, 2002. He also authored Listening To Your Baby: A New Approach to Parenting Your Newborn, which still gets great reviews from parents. His most recent book is The ADD and ADHD Cure, the Natural Way to Treat Hyperactivity and Refocus Your Child.

When the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Television and the Media named Dr. Gordon “the most influential doctor in America,” they were referring, tongue-in-cheek, to Dr. Gordon’s role, as the medical script consultant, in eliminating lollipops from the office of “Doctor Weston,” lead character on the sitcom “Empty Nest.”

After two years of consulting on television scripts, sets, and ideas, Dr. Gordon was named CBS TV’s Medical Consultant for Children’s programming. He also worked for five years on ABC Television as the on-air medical correspondent for the “Home Show,” and continues to consult regularly for television and movies. He’s appeared on Fox 11 News, ABC’s 20/20 and most recently on Larry King Live. 

Dr. Gordon contributed and wrote the forward to Smart Medicine for a Healthy Child and The Encyclopedia of Vitamins and Supplements (both published in 1999), is pediatric consultant for “Fit Pregnancy” magazine and a frequent contributor to “Parents,” “Parenting,” and other media outlets.
 Busy as he is, Dr. Gordon finds that his most challenging job is “being a good husband and the best possible parent to my 22 year-old daughter.”

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