Updated on January 26th, 2024 // by Katie Griffin
Babies’ bodies are brand new, and their little systems are just figuring out how to run smoothly. Chances are that your baby will experience various types of digestive upset from time to time. If you’re noticing that your little one is having a hard time with their bowel movements, you’re definitely not alone. Let’s talk about what baby constipation is, how to recognize it, and most importantly, how to help your baby find relief.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Table of contents
- How Do I Know if My Baby is Constipated?
- How to Help Your Baby with Constipation
- When Should I Call the Pediatrician About Baby’s Constipation?
What is Baby Constipation?
Constipation in babies is essentially when they have difficulty passing stool or aren’t going as frequently as they should. This can happen for various reasons, from dietary changes to dehydration, and is quite common.
Breastfed vs. Formula-fed Babies
Breastfed babies might actually go several days without a bowel movement, and that can be perfectly normal if the stool is soft when it does happen. Formula-fed babies generally have more regular bowel movements, so any significant change could indicate constipation.
How Do I Know if My Baby is Constipated?
Hard, Dry, Pebble-like Poop
The texture of baby’s stool is the easiest to way to recognize constipation. Normal baby poop should be no firmer than peanut butter. If your baby’s poop is hard and round, like pellets or pebbles, they may be constipated.
Bowel Movements Seem Painful
Straining, arching of the back, screaming while pooping and unusually fussiness are all signs that your baby’s bowel movements may be painful, and constipation is the most likely cause.
Because baby abdominal muscles are weak, many infants strain when having a bowel movement, and this is completely normal. However, if the straining lasts longer than ten minutes, the straining is accompanied by crying, and/or the straining produces no poop or dry, hard pebbles, your baby is likely constipated.
Dramatically Fewer Bowel Movements
When it comes to the frequency of bowel movements, every baby is different. It can be normal for some babies to poop after every feeding and others to poop once a week. The normal amount of dirty diapers also changes with age and diet. But if you notice a drastic or sudden change in your baby’s normal pooping schedule, there is a good chance that he or she is constipated.
How to Help Your Baby with Constipation
Increase Fluid Intake
One of the best ways to combat constipation in baby is one of the same ways we recommended in our pregnancy constipation article: hydration. Drinking plenty of fluids helps keep stools soft.
If your baby is older and has started on solids, offering a bit of extra water can help soften their stools. For younger babies, consult your pediatrician before introducing water or any new food. Continue to offer breast often to combat constipation.
Try Giving Small Amounts of Juice
The sugars in fruit juices draw fluid into the digestive tract, helping to loosen and move the stool through your baby’s digestive tract and out more easily.
Babie’s should not have too much fruit juice, so follow this guide to help with constipation without giving baby too much sugar. Begin by offering a small amount of 100% juice (apple, prune and/or pear are especially effective.) Start with 1 ounce a day for every month of life, up to 4 ounces. So, at one month old, a baby would receive one ounce of juice, two ounces at two months, and so on, up to four ounces.
Adjust Baby’s Diet
If your baby is eating solids, switching to foods with more fiber can help stool pass more easily and quickly through the digestive system and prevent constipation. Try pureed peas or prunes, and choose oatmeal, whole wheat, barley, or multigrain cereals over rice cereal.
Check the Formula
If your baby is formula-fed, talk to your pediatrician to see if a different formula might be less constipating.
Gently massage your baby’s belly in a clockwise direction. This can help stimulate bowel movements by moving the stool along the intestines.
Moving your baby’s legs in a bicycling motion can also help relieve constipation. It’s a gentle way to get things moving in their little tummies.
If your baby has gone more than a couple of days without a bowel movement, and this is not his or her usual schedule, you may want to try an infant glycerin suppository. These suppositories are not a long-term solution; you should only use them to help your baby with occasional severe constipation. Avoid other treatments such as mineral oil, stimulant laxatives, and/or enemas as they can be harmful to infants. And even though experts typically consider suppositories safe, give your baby’s pediatrician a call before using them.
When Should I Call the Pediatrician About Baby’s Constipation?
If you’ve tried these tips and your baby is still struggling, it’s time to talk to your pediatrician. This is especially important if your baby hasn’t had a bowel movement in several days, is vomiting, has blood in their stool, or is extremely irritable. In rare cases, constipation can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as cystic fibrosis, hypothyroidism, or Hirschsprung’s disease.
Understanding and Patience
Remember, every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another. It’s all about understanding your baby’s unique needs and patterns. Constipation is usually a temporary issue, but it can be uncomfortable for your little one, so your patience and care make a huge difference.
You’re doing a fantastic job caring for your baby, even through these less-than-pleasant moments. Keep up the great work, and know that you’re not alone in navigating the ups and downs of parenthood. Here’s to happier tummies and comfortable babies!
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- Hoecker, J. (2019, October 5). What are the Signs of Infant Constipation? And What’s the Best Way to Treat it?. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/infant-constipation/faq-20058519
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2009, August 1). Baby’s First Days: Bowel Movements & Urination. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Babys-First-Days-Bowel-Movements-and-Urination.aspx
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019, December 9). Infant Constipation. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Infant-Constipation.aspx