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Before Colonoscopy in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.


Before a colonoscopy,

your child's colon needs to be cleaned out. This is called bowel prep or colon prep. Your child may need to start bowel prep 1 to 2 days before the colonoscopy, or the night before. Your child's bowel movements should look yellow to light brown and be liquid. Your child should not have solids in his or her bowel movements.

Call your child's doctor if:

  • Your child cannot finish the bowel prep.
  • Your child's bowel movements are not clear after he or she finishes bowel prep.
  • Your child has a fever or is sick.

Types of bowel prep:

Your child may need any of the following medicines to help clean out his or her colon:

  • Polyethylene glycol is a laxative medicine that helps your child have soft and frequent bowel movements. This medicine may come in a large container of liquid. Your child may need to drink this medicine over 4 to 6 hours.
  • Bisacodyl is a laxative medicine that will help your child have a bowel movement. It may be given with polyethylene glycol as a pill or a suppository.
  • Magnesium citrate is a laxative medicine that will help your child to have soft and frequent bowel movements. It may be given alone or with other laxative medicines.

Support your child during bowel prep:

Bowel prep may be difficult for both you and your child. The medicine may cause stomach discomfort and nausea. Your child may feel embarrassed about having to make frequent bathroom trips. He or she may have accidents. You may need to encourage your child several times to drink the medicine. The following may help you and your child:

  • Prepare your child. Talk to your child about the bowel prep and colonoscopy a few days before it will start. Tell your child what he or she will need to do and what to expect. Explain why it is important to take all of the medicine. This may make it easier for him or her to take the medicine and be ready for the procedure.
  • Plan your child's bowel prep. Set goals with your child about how much medicine he or she needs to drink at one time. Plan quiet activities such as watching TV or playing games. Be sure that your child has access to a nearby bathroom. If you have to leave the house, bring extra clothes in case your child has an accident.
  • Have your child use soft wipes. This may help his or her rectum from getting sore from frequent wiping.
  • Mix the laxative medicines with sports drinks as directed. The taste of the medicine may make it difficult for your child to drink. Ask your child's healthcare provider about sports drinks or juices that the medicine can be mixed with.
  • Prevent dehydration in your child. Follow instructions for clear liquids before the colonoscopy. Your child may become dehydrated from having frequent bowel movements. You may be able to prevent dehydration by giving your child plenty of clear liquids or breastfeeding as directed. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid your child needs during bowel prep.

Clear liquids before a colonoscopy:

If your child is breastfeeding, ask how long you should stop breastfeeding before the procedure. Your child may be on clear liquids 1 to 2 days before the colonoscopy. Clear liquids are liquids that you can easily see through. Do not give your child clear liquids that are blue, red, or purple. Do not give your child solid foods, milk, milk products, or juice with pulp. The following are examples of clear liquids:

  • Water
  • Gelatin
  • Clear soft drinks, such as ginger ale
  • Clear juice without pulp, such as apple juice
  • Broth
  • Oral rehydration solution
  • Sports drinks

Bowel prep in the hospital:

  • Your child may need to spend the night before the procedure in the hospital. This may happen if your child cannot complete bowel prep at home or has severe nausea and vomiting.
  • A nasogastric tube (NG tube) may be used to give the bowel prep medicine. An NG tube is a small, plastic tube inserted through your child's nose and into his or her stomach. A syringe is used to inject the medicine through the tube and into your child's stomach.
  • Healthcare providers can give your child medicine to prevent nausea and vomiting. This may help him or her finish bowel prep.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.