Is Mineral Oil Safe for Toddlers?

Mineral oil is a petroleum-based liquid used as an ingredient in some medications and diaper rash creams. According to a 2001 article published in the journal "Paedriatrics & Child Health," mineral oil is also considered an effective treatment for constipation. Used incorrectly or for too long, however, mineral oil can have harmful health effects. Do not give a toddler any amount of mineral oil until you've consulted his pediatrician.

How Mineral Oil Works

Mineral oil belongs to the category of laxatives known as lubricants. Lubricant laxatives work to ease bowel movements by creating an oily coating on the surface of hard, dry stool. The coating softens the stool by holding in water and allows it to be eliminated from the body easily. Mineral oil can be administered orally or rectally just before bedtime, without any food, and will typically result in a bowel movement six to eight hours later.

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The National Institutes of Health cautions that mineral oil is not safe to give to toddlers or to any child under the age of 6 unless it is conducted under a doctor's supervision. Pure mineral oil should not be given orally to any child under 12 years old. Rectal enemas of mineral oil suspensions, which consist of an emulsion of mineral oil with another liquid compound, should not be used on any children under 2 years old.

Possible Side Effects

Mineral oil may cause vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. Additionally, the body may become unable to absorb adequate amounts of certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E and K. A toddler who experiences rectal bleeding, severe abdominal pain or persistent vomiting or who fails to have a bowel movement after taking mineral oil should be seen by a doctor immediately.

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For a toddler, changes in diet may be safer than mineral oil as a treatment for constipation. She should drink plenty of water and clear liquids such as fruit or vegetable juice each day and eat high-fiber foods at every meal. Toddlers need approximately 14 grams of fiber daily. A 1/2-cup serving of cooked beans contains as much as 9.6 grams of fiber, while 1/3 cup of 100 percent bran cereal has 9.1 grams. Fruits with the peel intact, fresh vegetables and whole grains are other fiber-rich choices. Limit her intake of meat, cheese and processed foods, all of which may contribute to constipation.