What are the signs of infant constipation? And what's the best way to treat it?
Answer From Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.
Infant constipation isn't common. However, your baby might have infant constipation if he or she has:
- Hard or pellet-like bowel movements
- Bowel movements that appear difficult to pass, causing your baby to arch his or her back or cry
- Infrequent or less frequent bowel movements
If your newborn seems constipated, contact his or her doctor for advice. But keep in mind that the normal amount of bowel movements an infant passes varies depending on his or her age and what he or she is eating. Infants also 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.
Infant constipation often begins when a baby starts eating solid foods. If your baby seems constipated, consider simple dietary changes:
- Water or fruit juice. Offer your baby a small amount of water or a daily serving of 100 percent apple, prune or pear juice in addition to usual feedings. These juices contain sorbitol, a sweetener that acts like a laxative. 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 peas or prunes, which contain more fiber than other fruits and vegetables. Offer whole wheat, barley or multigrain cereals, which contain more fiber than rice cereal.
If your baby is struggling, it's been a few days since his or her last bowel movement, and dietary changes haven't been effective, it might help to place an infant glycerin suppository into your baby's anus. However, glycerin suppositories are only meant for occasional use. 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 weakness — contact your baby's doctor.
Oct. 25, 2019
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- Jana LA, et al. Poop happens. In: Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality. 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2015.
- Shelov SP, et al. Abdominal/gastrointestinal tract. In: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books; 2014.