What are the signs of infant constipation? And what's the best way to treat it?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

The normal amount of bowel movements an infant passes varies depending on his or her age and what he or she is eating.

Your baby might have infant constipation if he or she has hard or pellet-like bowel movements. He or she might also appear to be in pain while trying to have bowel movements or have them less frequently than before. Infants experiencing painful bowel movements might arch their backs, tighten their buttocks or cry. Keep in mind that infants have weak abdominal muscles and often strain during bowel movements. Infant constipation is unlikely if your baby passes a soft bowel movement after a few minutes of straining.

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

Infant constipation often begins when a baby begins eating solid foods. If your older baby seems to be constipated, you might try simple dietary changes:

  • Water or fruit juice. Offer your baby a small daily serving of water in addition to usual feedings. If water doesn't seem to help, offer your baby a daily serving of 100 percent 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.
  • Baby food. If your baby is eating solid foods, try pureed pea or prunes. Offer barley cereal instead of rice cereal.

If your baby is struggling and it's been a few days since his or her last bowel movement, it might help to place an infant glycerin suppository into your baby's anus. Glycerin suppositories are only meant for occasional use, however, if dietary changes aren't effective. Don't use mineral oil, stimulant laxatives or enemas to treat infant constipation.

Rarely, infant constipation is caused by an underlying condition, such as Hirschsprung's disease, hypothyroidism or cystic fibrosis. If infant constipation persists despite dietary changes or is accompanied by other signs or symptoms — such as vomiting or rectal bleeding — contact your baby's doctor.

Feb. 28, 2014 See more Expert Answers