Constipation In Babies: Signs, Causes And Effective Home Remedies

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Diaper changes are a constant with an infant. But if you haven’t changed their diapers much for the last couple of days and whatever that came out was just hardened poop, then that could be a sign of constipation. Here, we tell you about constipation in babies, its causes, and some home remedies to address the problem.

What Is Constipation In Babies And What Are The Symptoms?

Constipation is the difficulty or delay in passage of stools for at least two weeks (1). However, the symptoms that indicate constipation in infants are different from those in adults. The following are the signs of constipation among babies (2):

  1. A significant delay in passing stools – sometimes the baby may not poop for days.
  1. The baby strains for more than 10 minutes in a day with a reddened face, indicating that they are having difficulty passing stool.
  1. The baby gets fussy when passing stool, an indication that the passage is painful.
  1. Stools are hard and pellet-like.
  1. Baby’s abdomen seems to be unusually bloated and stiff to touch.
  1. Severe constipation may cause encopresis, which is a condition that causes an involuntary leakage of a small amount of liquid stool into the diaper/underwear.
  1. In severe cases, there may a streak of bleeding while the baby passes motion.
  1. The child may start to stand and strain to pass motion.

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When to rush to a doctor:

  • When there is blood in the stool or the stool is black, which indicates clotted blood.
  • There is constant colic due to repeated strain to pass stools.
  • The baby’s anal opening is reddened or has developed an inflammation.
  • The baby has fever and vomiting, does not feed properly, has poor weight gain, and seems unhealthy.

If the baby has chronic constipation, then it could be a symptom of fecal impaction, which is a serious condition where stool solidifies inside the intestine (3).

According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, the frequency of passing stools varies among babies, which makes it difficult to accurately tell if the baby has constipation (4). Nevertheless, detecting constipation can be easy when you know the normal frequency of bowel movement in babies.

[ Read: Blood In Baby’s Stool ]

What Is The Normal Stool Frequency Among Infants?

The following table helps you know if the baby is constipated (5) (6):

AgeNormal Stool FrequenciesIndicator of Constipation
0 – 6 months (breastfed)Almost once after every feed;

at least two per day;

sometimes one per 5-7 days

Hard pellet-like stools only. Infrequent stools are okay as long as they are soft and paste-like.
0 – 6 months (formula fed)At least once in a day to

once in two days

Hard pellet-like stools and no stool in three days.
6 – 12 monthsAt least once in a day to once in two daysDefecates less than two times in a week

Constipation in the first month is usually an indicator that the baby is not getting sufficient breast milk (7). Babies who are only breastfed may present the widest array of defecation habits. Some breastfed newborns may even use most of the milk for nutrition and leave little or nothing for passage in the stools, according to experts. In very rare instances where a baby may not pass stools in the first two to three days after birth, will need testing to rule out surgical causes. If the child has passed normally for the first two days, it is unlikely to be a surgical cause.

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What Causes Constipation In Babies?

A baby can develop constipation due to the following reasons:

  1. Change in formula milk: A formula-fed infant may not respond well to a new formula. It may result in troubled digestion that could eventually lead to constipation.
  1. Insufficient feed: If the baby doesn’t get enough breast milk, then you may notice infrequent, hard stools.
  1. Dehydration: Poor fluid intake can affect the body’s ability to pass stool. Breastfed babies get all their water from breast milk. But older infants can become constipated due to inadequate intake of water.
  1. Lack of fiber: Low fiber content in a solid food diet can cause hardened stool.
  1. Infection in the gastrointestinal tract: Constipation can be a result of a gastrointestinal infection, resulting in hardened stools with fresh or clotted blood.
  1. Serious ailment: Constipation can be a symptom of a host of diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and hypothyroidism. Such disorders also display other symptoms beyond constipation.

As long as the baby seems healthy, there is little to worry since their bowel habits are often unpredictable. However, get a pediatrician’s advice if the baby is less than three months old.

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[ Read: How To Make Prune Juice For Baby Constipation ]

How Is Constipation In Babies Diagnosed?

A doctor will use the following steps to determine if the baby has constipation (8):

  1. Understanding the stool pattern: A pediatrician will rely mostly on the parent’s observations of their baby’s diet, stool patterns, and other symptoms to make a diagnosis. Maintaining a record of the baby’s diet and pooping pattern can help in a more accurate diagnosis.
  1. Physical examination: A baby’s anal opening and abdomen are checked for anomalies that could point towards an ailment.
  1. Abdominal X-ray: An X-ray may be necessary to check for an impaction.

Invasive diagnostic testing through barium enema and colonoscopy is usually avoided for infants unless it occurs in the first week of life. The treatment is also mild and consists mostly of home remedies.

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How Is Constipation In Babies Treated?

Constipation in babies is usually treated with diet and lifestyle changes. Medication is not prescribed unless necessary.

  1. Diet changes: If the baby is older than six months, then the doctor may suggest including fiber-rich food along with adequate water in the baby’s diet. Parents can visit a pediatric dietician to get a diet chart for their constipated baby.
  1. Using glycerin suppositories: Glycerin suppository is a glycerin capsule that is inserted into the rectum through the anus. The capsule dissolves within to induce stool passage. Glycerin suppositories could be prescribed to treat severe constipation in breastfed infants who cannot be given fiber-rich solid food.

Pediatric experts warn against giving the baby any over-the-counter laxative, tonic, or enema to relieve constipation (9). Treatment through simple remedies at home is often the first preference to relieve the baby’s constipation. The suppository is the only medical treatment recommended for infants below the age of one year. However, it should be only inserted by a doctor and not by a parent.

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What Are The Home Remedies For Infant Constipation?

Here are a few things you can do at home to relieve a baby’s constipation (10):

  • Increase breastfeeding frequency: Not getting enough feed is a common cause of irregular stools in infants. Increase the number of feeds per day to make sure that the little one gets enough sustenance every day.
  • Try different formulas: If your baby is formula fed, then you can try switching to another formula brand. Experiment with different types of formula to see if the baby displays any improvement in constipation.
  • Give an ounce of fruit juice: The American Academy of Pediatrics states that you can give an ounce (30ml) of fruit juice every day to your constipated baby once he is a month old (11). If your baby is older than six months, then you can give them up to four ounces (118ml) to relieve constipation. Choose fruits like prunes and pears that are known for their laxative properties.
  • Switch to oat and barley cereal: If your baby eats cereals, then choose oat or barley cereals over rice cereals. Oats and barley are rich in fiber that can help in easy passage of stools.
  • Include high fiber fruits and vegetables: If the baby is constipated soon after starting solids, then it is quite likely that he is not getting adequate fiber in his diet. Make high fiber fruits and vegetables a part of the baby’s daily diet to ease constipation.

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[ Read: Dehydration In Babies ]

Feeding a constipated baby:

When your baby is younger than six months, then breast milk is the best food to ease constipation. After six months, give preference to solid foods with high fiber content. Here is a table with the suggested food items for your baby (12):

Food TypeFood Items
VegetablesRoot vegetables – Carrot, Beetroot,
Brassica vegetables – Cauliflower, Cabbage, Broccoli
Legumes – Beans, pulses
Green leafy vegetables – Spinach
Potato and butternut squash
FruitsBerries – Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries
Apple with peel and applesauce
Mangoes and Papayas
Oranges and Nectarines
Kiwis, Pears, and Avocado
Dried fruitsDates, Raisins, and Dried prunes, figs, and pears
Cereal100% whole barley cereal, oat cereal, and steel-cut oats

[ Read: Baby Poop Basics During Breastfeeding ]

Massage and exercise as a home remedy:

Assisted exercise and massage can help relieve constipation in babies. Here are three things you can do:

  1. Circular belly massage: Place the baby on their back and place your hand on the belly button for about 30 seconds. It helps warm the infant’s muscles. Gently massage the baby’s belly in a clockwise movement. Maintain three fingers wide distance from the belly button while massaging the tummy. Observe your baby’s face and body language. If you sense resistance and notice discomfort, then stop massaging immediately.

Since infants are familiar and comfortable with the touch of a parent, massage is a safe and effective way to relieve their constipation (13).

  1. Bicycle leg movement: Make the baby lie on the back. Gently hold their legs upwards and slowly move them in a circular motion as if the baby were pedaling a bicycle. Make the motion for 30 seconds, and resume it after a gap of five seconds. The pedaling action helps work the abdominal muscles, which eventually stimulate the bowel movement.
  1. Crawling: If your baby is old enough to crawl, then make sure you give them adequate stimulation to crawl around. Crawling is the best physical activity for babies, and in turn helps improve their bowel movement.

A few changes in diet and exercises can help relieve constipation among infants.

[ Read: Stomach Pain In Babies ]

Do you still have some queries about constipation? Below we answer some more questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What should I give a one-week-old baby for constipation?

Constipation within the first month of life is an indicator that the baby is not getting adequate breast milk. Increasing the number of feeds and maintaining a feeding schedule is sufficient to relieve constipation in infants that are a few weeks old. However, if the constipation is from the first three days itself, make sure you inform your pediatrician about it.

2. Can I give my baby gripe water to relieve constipation?

No. Gripe water is primarily used for infantile colic, and there is no scientific evidence that it can treat constipation in babies.

3. Can I use coconut and castor oil to ease my baby’s constipation?

No. You must not use castor or coconut oil for baby’s constipation since the suitability of these oils for treating constipation among babies is not known (14). Also, these oils work as laxatives, which cause rapid contraction of bowel and defecation, which is not good for the baby.

4. Are probiotics like yogurt safe to use for infant constipation?

While there are no studies that indicate the usefulness of probiotics among infants with constipation, one can use cow milk yogurt for the baby after they turn one (15). But, you can give cow-milk yogurt to the baby after they are one year old.

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[ Read: What Causes Diarrhea In Babies ]

Constipation may be common during infancy, but it seldom causes any problems. Babies take time to adjust to anything new around them, including food. A baby may get constipated every time you change the formula, introduce a new food, or merely change the feeding routine. Maintaining a diet adequate in fiber and fluids can prevent constipation. When in doubt, always talk to your baby’s doctor for the best course of action.

Have any tips or home remedies for treating constipation in babies? Share them with us in the comments section.

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