The Secret to Potty Training: Laxatives?
A pediatric gastroenterologist explains his surprising solution for potty-training kids who withhold their bowel movements.
For some, it’s the hardest part of potty training: teaching your child not just to pee in the potty, but to poop too.
Some kids hate it so much, they try to avoid the process entirely. They withhold stools, suffer constipation and fecal impactions. As a result, they are prone to soiling their underwear—a condition known as encopresis.
Dr. Frederic Daum, a pediatric gastroenterologist in New York, understands the frustrations of stool-withholding all too well. One of his own children was encopretic.
“I know the dynamic, the stress…I can appreciate it when I deal with families,” he told BabyZone.
Daum, who calls himself a “toilet-training junkie,” is making headlines—most recently, on the suburban New York newspaper website LoHud.com—for a surprising approach to toilet-training. He provides the parents of his patients with a personalized regimen of oral, vegetable-based laxatives as well as guidance on how much time the youngster should spend in the bathroom. Generally, he doesn’t see his patients in person but offers frequent phone consultations for as long as necessary for a fee of $450.
His treatment enables children to start going to the bathroom on their own with regular bowel movements in as few as three or four days, he said.
Stacy Arinsberg told LoHud.com that Dr. Daum’s methods worked for her five-year-old daughter.
“She’s a lot happier now. You can see it in her face, her body language and her appetite,” the Pennsylvania mom said.
Here’s how it works:
On the first day of treatment, the child takes a dose of laxative in the morning and spends the whole day in the bathroom, with the exception of meal times. (Children eat their meals just outside the bathroom.) He is encouraged to sit on the toilet on a regular basis and, in between, he can play with toys or take advantage of other forms of entertainment—hello, iPad!—all while still in the bathroom.
The laxative Daum recommends is given in a dose large enough that “they will definitely get the urge to go once or more often during the day,” he said.
The goal, Daum said, is for the child to begin initiating toilet trips on his own.
“It can be as little as ‘I have to poop’ and then the mother may help them get on the toilet and poop,” he said.
Typically by the second day or third day, the child is allowed to spend the majority of the day in a room right next to the bathroom instead of in the bathroom itself. After that, he can return to living in his home the way he usually would…but the laxative regimen continues to prevent fecal impactions. Often, Daum will work with school nurses, who will administer laxatives to his patients at specific times during the school day.
“If you discontinue the laxatives too quickly, the problem will recur almost immediately,” Daum said. “What you have to do is you have to be patient and wean them very slowly over a period of months.”
Throughout treatment, Daum, who works with both typically-developing children and special needs kids, guides and encourages parents through frequent phone check-ins.
Even on vacation, Daum said, he’ll take some 18 phone calls a day.
“You can’t take a vacation from this work,” he said.
Daum isn’t the only physician who recommends laxatives as part of the treatment for stool-withholding children, but says his method differs from others in that he does not rely on enemas or suppositories.
Some call it, he said, “a top-down approach.”
Read more about Dr. Daum on his website, DoctorDaum.com.
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