Constipation in Babies: Causes and Treatment

Babies may have a bowel movement after every feeding, or they may wait a day or more in between. The pattern of bowel movement depends on what the baby eats and drinks, how active he/she is, and how quickly he/she digests food.

Updated: October 11, 2017

Babies may have a bowel movement after every feeding, or they may wait a day or more in between. The pattern of bowel movement depends on what the baby eats and drinks, how active he/she is, and how quickly he/she digests food. There is no normal number or schedule of bowel movement, if your baby is breastfed. If your baby drinks formula or eats solid food, he/she will probably have a regular bowel movement at least once a day.
The baby is considered to be constipated if he/she has the sign of:

  • Hard, dry stools that are difficult for her to pass, no matter how frequently
  • Less frequent bowel movements than usual, especially if your baby has not had one for three or more days and is obviously uncomfortable when she does

Causes of Constipation in Babies:

There are several possible causes of constipation in babies which include:

Solid food:

Your baby becomes mildly constipated when he/she eats more solid food such as rice cereal which is a common first food.This is because the food is low in fiber. Constipation can also happen when you wean your baby from breast milk because this sometimes leads to dehydration.

Formula:

Babies who breastfeed are rarely constipated. Breast milk has the perfect balance of fat and protein which produces stools that are almost always soft, even if your baby has not had one for several days.
It is possible that the baby will be constipated if he/she is on formula. If this happens switch the brand.

Dehydration:

If your baby becomes dehydrated, the colon will absorb more fluid from  the waste in his bowels resulting in hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.

Medical condition:

Constipation can be caused by an underlying medical condition such as hypothyroidism, botulism, and certain food allergies and metabolic disorders. Constipation can also be caused by Hirschsprung's disease, a condition caused by a birth defect that prevents a baby's gut from functioning properly. This condition is very rare.

Treatment of Constipation in Babies:

Treatment can be done by following few things which include:

  • Belly massage of your baby can help constipation. Apply gentle but firm pressure below her navel on the lower left side with your fingertips for about three minutes. Press until you feel a firmness or mass.
  • Help her get some exercise such as, try pumping her legs or she's lying on her back, gently move her legs in a forward, circular motion as if she were pedaling a bicycle. If your baby is crawling, encourage her to do a few laps.
  • If you feed your baby formula, switch to a different brand. Sometimes adding dark corn syrup to the formula also helps.But do not give her more than one teaspoon per four ounces.
  • If your baby is at least 4 weeks old, a small amount of water or a daily serving of apple, prune or pear juice in addition to usual feedings may help. 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.
  • If your baby is eating solid foods, try pureed peas,apricots, or pears  or prunes, which contain more fiber than other fruits and vegetables. Adding whole wheat, barley or multigrain cereals, which contain more fiber than rice cereal will help. Cut down on constipating foods like rice, bananas, and cooked carrots.
  • An over-the-counter stool softener can be given to make it more comfortable for your baby to have a bowel movement. Never give him/her a laxative without a doctor's approval. If the baby is severely constipated, a glycerin suppository may be suggested by the doctor. The suppository stimulates your baby's rectum and helps her pass a stool. Occasional use of suppository is fine, but do not do it on a regular basis as your baby could be habituated to it and do not have a bowel movement without using it.
  • If see a little blood while passing the hard stool or even slight tears (fissures) in the delicate skin near the opening of her anus, you can apply some aloe vera lotion to the area to help it heal.  Keep the area as clean and dry as possible and talk to the baby's doctor.


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