Infant Constipation – Causes, Remedies for Newborn and Baby

Normal Bowel Habit in a Newborn and Infant

The main symptom of infant constipation is not a low bowel movement frequency but a hard stool consistency.

Breastfed infants have stool of liquid or paste consistency from once after every feed to about once a week. Formula fed infants have stool of paste consistency once every one or two days. Infants on solid food have paste or formed stools, often containing parts of undigested food; bowel movement frequency depends on the type of the food.

Between the second and sixth week of life, frequency of bowel movements in infants often decreases because of improved absorption of nutrients in their intestines, thus leaving less residue to excrete, and decreased production of breast milk by their mothers. At this time babies also often start to strain before bowel movement and become increasingly irritated. From all this, parents often assume their babies are constipated, while they are really not.

Symptoms of Constipated Baby

An infant is likely constipated when he has all three symptoms listed below (1):

  1. Hard, dry or pebbly stool
  2. Straining and crying at defecating. Straining alone is not a symptom of constipation.
  3. No stools for 2-3 days in formula fed and no stools in a week for breastfed babies. Until the stool is soft, having only one bowel movement a week does not already mean a baby is constipated.

Additional symptoms may include poor appetite, not gaining weight and bleeding from the anus.

Some infants may strain and scream for up to 20 minutes before passing fairly normal stools; the problem is in uncoordinated defecating muscles and usually resolves in a few weeks. The condition is called infant dyschezia (Greek dys = abnormal; chezo = defecate) (1).

Causes of Constipation in Babies

Constipation in a breast-fed baby is most often caused by congenital disorders, like cystic fibrosis or Hirschsprung’s disease. A healthy breast-fed baby is rarely constipated.

Other rare causes of constipation in infants include diabetes insipidus, hypothyroidism and congenital anatomical defects of the rectum and anus.

Constipation in a formula fed baby may be caused by:

  • Insufficient fluid
  • Lack of fibers
  • Change of formula, thickened, lactose-free, or casein containing formula
  • Medications: paracetamol, ibuprofen, antibiotics, aluminium antacids
  • Iron supplements. Iron in the formula does not likely cause constipation.

The following solid foods, especially if introduced early or in large amounts, can cause infant constipation:

  • Dairy, white bread, pasta, white rice, bananas, green apples, carrots, corn, turnips and potatoes.

Remedies to Treat Infant Constipation

1. Water or Fruit Juice

Offer one ounce (30 milliliters) of water to a baby together with the formula 2-4 times a day. Breastfed babies will rarely need additional water.

To infants older than 3 months, 1 ounce of apple, pear or prune juice, diluted to 1/4 of strength can be offered twice a day until his stool become soft. Sorbitol from these juices attracts water into intestine thus stimulating its motion.

2. Fiber-Rich Foods

To infants who already started with solid food, fiber-rich pureed foods containing sorbitol, like apples, pears, prunes or apricots, can be offered.

NOTE: Citruses may irritate the infant’s bowel and skin around his mouth and anus, so they should be avoided until 1 year of age.

3. Karo Sugar or Syrup

Karo sugar should be used with a caution, since infant may get used to it and later reject any other food. Karo sugar has the same effect as sorbitol-rich foods.

4. Lubricant

A small amount of water-based lubricant applied to the baby’s anus can help to pass hard stool. Mineral oils, enemas and laxatives should not be used.

5. Massage and Exercises

The following can stimulate baby’s intestine and bring constipation relief:

  • Give the baby a warm bath to relax, then oil your fingers and massage baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction. Continue only, if baby likes it.
  • Allow your baby to crawl around or hold his legs and move them in a cycling manner.

6. When to Visit a Doctor?

Parents should take their baby to the doctor when baby can not get rid of constipation by above mentioned methods, when baby does not gain weight or bleeds from the anus.

Related Articles:

 

References:

  1. How to help a constipated baby  (babycareadvice.com)
  2. Infant dyschezia  (kumc.edu)
About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
Health writer
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  • Azizah Manikam

    thanks for your information. .appreciate

  • Normal Malay

    appreciate

  • Apa Guna

    My DS is facing a very serious constipation for a week, but his poo is hard and black. Moms, do you have any idea?

  • velibyjane

    My son got constipation problem. I always bring him to doctor and he will feel relieved a bit after taking medicine. but it is not for long term.. I am so worried about him. Wat should i do?

  • Apa Guna

    My DS is
    facing constipation for a week, but his poo is hard and black. Moms, do you
    have any idea?

  • SY Kang

    thanks!!!

  • Larva Chan

    hey all! i think my LO is currently having constipation problem because he now also hate to go toilet cause he is afraid of painfulness due to not poo for 4 days already, the stools will become harden. i tried to give him more water to drink but useless… he is 4YO btw. any solution to cure such problem????

  • Bernert Chim

    hey all! my DS who is 3YO also currently facing constipation problem.. he now hates to go toilet because he is afraid of painfulness due to not poo for 6 days already… the stools will become harden.plus, he complained to me that he has stomach ache as well!! i fed him lots of water and fruits, and also bought him prune juice but nothing different!! i’m really worry bout him.. any solution to cure such constipation problem?

  • SY Kang

    thanks!!!!!!

  • Hi Larva. Apart from water, have you tried increasing his fiber intake. Cereals with more fiber, crunchy fresh fruit and vegetables can all increase his fiber intake. Along with water this is very effective in softening stools. Include at least 2 portions of fruit and 2 portions of fresh vegetables in his diet everyday and there should be some improvement within a few days. If not, consult with a pediatrician.

  • Hi Dandan. Could you please specify what unproved remedy your wife tried on your child? It is unfair to make a broad statement based on the actions of your wife or any other person. This article suggest water, fruit juice and so on as possible remedies for constipation. Did your wife use any of these? Was your child consulting with a doctor recently? It is also important for a parent to know when something is out of their hands and needs medical attention.

    In the past 2 weeks you have been repeatedly posting comments and asking questions for your son then your daughter about the constipation. And you have yourself spoke about remedies you have tried on other websites. So please stop spamming and discouraging readers from taking simple measures to help relieve their child’s constipation. Of course a pediatrician should be consulted at all times.

  • Please stop using aliases (Kelvin Poh, Fuki San, Alisa Lai, Annie Tong) and posting comments about not trying simple constipation remedies like extra water and high fiber foods while promoting your product. We are able to see that it all originates from the same IP address in Malaysia and we will continue to block you if you persist with this behavior under new aliases daily.