Is it OK to give a baby Karo syrup for constipation?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

Don't treat infant constipation with corn (Karo) syrup.

Dark corn syrup was once a common home remedy for infant constipation. However, today's commercially prepared dark corn syrup might not contain the type of chemical structure that draws fluid into the intestine and softens stool. This makes dark corn syrup ineffective for infant constipation.

If your newborn seems to be constipated, contact his or her doctor for advice.

If your older baby seems to be constipated, try simple dietary changes:

  • Add water to your baby's diet. Offer your baby a daily serving of water in addition to usual feedings. Start with 2 to 4 ounces (about 60 to 120 milliliters). Try more or less as you gauge your baby's response to the water. Remember, though, the water doesn't replace normal feedings with breast milk or formula. Also, don't dilute infant formula with extra water.
  • Offer your baby fruit juice. If water doesn't seem to help, offer your baby a daily serving of apple, prune or pear juice in addition to usual feedings. Start with 2 to 4 ounces (about 60 to 120 milliliters), and experiment to determine whether your baby needs more or less. Remember that the juice is meant to loosen stools during constipation — not add nutritional value to your baby's diet.
  • Select baby food carefully. If your baby is eating solid foods, try pureed pears or prunes. Offer barley cereal instead of rice cereal.

You might also want to apply a small amount of water-based lubricant to your baby's anus. This can help ease the passage of hard stools.

After applying the lubricant, place your baby on his or her back. Alternating one leg and then the other, gently press your baby's knees against his or her abdomen. The movement might encourage a bowel movement.

Don't treat infant constipation with mineral oil, enemas or stimulant laxatives — which increase activity of the intestines to cause a bowel movement.

If infant constipation continues despite dietary changes or is accompanied by other signs or symptoms, such as vomiting or poor weight gain, contact your baby's doctor.

If necessary, the doctor might remove dried stool from your baby's anus. If your baby is older than age 6 months, the doctor might prescribe osmotic laxatives — which soften stool by increasing the amount of water released within the intestines.

The doctor will also consider whether other factors might be at play. Rarely, infant constipation might be caused by an underlying condition, such as:

  • Hirschsprung's disease — a condition that affects the large intestine (colon) and causes problems with passing stool
  • Cystic fibrosis — a condition that causes severe lung damage and nutritional deficiencies
  • Hypothyroidism — a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough of certain important hormones
  • An anatomical issue affecting the anus

In these cases, treatment options would depend on the underlying condition.

May 17, 2012