It’s easy for parents to misunderstand constipation and how it affects a baby. They can’t tell you if they’re having problems pooping. A few basic facts about your baby’s digestion can help you keep things in perspective.
Can Few Poops Still Be Normal?
Because breast milk is so nutritious, sometimes a baby’s body absorbs almost all of it, leaving little to move through the digestive tract. Your baby may poop only once in a while -- it’s perfectly normal for breastfed infants to have a bowel movement once a week.
Some infants just have a slower (but completely normal) gut, so they don't go very often. Hard stools are common from time to time. But if your baby seems to be in pain or you have any concerns, call your doctor.
In rare cases, a medical problem causes lasting, serious constipation. For example, the muscles in the intestine aren’t working the way they should or there’s a blockage in the digestive tract.
Symptoms of Constipation in Babies
Constipation isn’t just about how often your baby poops. It’s also about how tough it is for them to do it. If they have soft, easy-to-pass stools every 4-5 days, they’re probably OK. On the other hand, you should talk to your doctor if they:
- Have a hard time going or seem uncomfortable
- Have hard stools
- Have stool that is bloody or black
- Don't poop at least once every 5 to 10 days
- Won’t eat normally
- Have a swollen belly
Home Care for Constipation in Babies
- If you're bottle feeding, try a different brand of formula -- after you check with your doctor. Constipation should never be a reason to stopbreastfeeding.
- Add a little dark fruit juice, like prune or pear, to your baby's bottle.
- Give them some extra water if they’re older than 4 months -- no more than 1-2 ounces per day. But check with the doctor first.
- If your baby is eating solid foods, try some that are higher in fiber, like pureed prunes or peas, or cereal with barley or whole wheat.
- Try bending your baby’s knees toward their chest. It’s easier to get poop out in a squat posture than lying flat. It may also help to exercise their legs gently in a bicycle motion.
- A warm bath can help your baby’s muscles relax and release poop.
- Gently massage their belly.
- Taking your baby’s temperature with a rectal thermometer may stimulate their bowels.
- Remember that most babies who don’t poop a lot are not truly "constipated" and don’t need anything different from normal.
OTC medications for constipation in babies
If home remedies don’t work, there are some over-the-counter medications you can try. Ask your doctor first.
- Glycerin suppository. This is placed directly in your baby’s anus to stimulate a bowel movement.
- Laxatives. Only use a laxative if your doctor tells you to.
"Clinical manifestations of gastrointestinal disease." Wylie R. in Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th edition. Behrman R, Kliegman R and Jenson H (eds.), Saunders: 2004.
KidsHealth: “How Can I Tell if My Baby Is Constipated?”
The Permanente Medical Group: “Infant Constipation.”
Mayo Clinic: “What are the signs of infant constipation? And what’s the best way to treat it?”
UpToDate: “Patient education: Constipation in infants and children (Beyond the Basics).”
Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Constipation.”
Elsevier Interactive Patient Education: “Constipation, Infant.”
Nationwide Children’s Hospital: “Constipation: Infant.”