Constipation in babies is a common concern among parents and a condition that is commonly addressed by pediatricians. This type of constipation refers more to the consistency of the stool than the frequency. While many newborn babies pass stool after each feeding, the frequency of bowel movements begins to subside between one and two months of age. Constipation in babies is marked by infrequent, hard stool that appears to be painful to pass. You may be able to help relieve constipation at home, though new parents are encouraged to call their pediatrician if they are concerned.
A common treatment for constipation is to feed them prune juice diluted with water. This is a viable option in babies older than six weeks. Fill a bottle with one ounce water and one ounce prune juice and feed it to baby twice a day.
Prune juice should be given in addition to regular breast or formula feeding, not as a substitute. Though it may not seem palatable, there is no need to sweeten the juice with sugar, and you should not do so. Most babies will suck as a natural reflex and ingest some of the juice.
If your baby refuses prune juice, is less than six weeks of age, or seems to be unresponsive to the juice, sometimes obtaining a rectal temperature will stimulate a baby’s bowels. If you are unfamiliar with obtaining a rectal temperature, you should not try it until your baby’s doctor or nurse has shown you how. Also, if your baby has a higher than normal temperature, you should consult your doctor. You can also try a glycerin suppository for stimulation and softening, but check with the pharmacist about specific brands and use. Never use a laxative on a baby.
Constipation in babies older than five months is often caused by the introduction to solid foods. As the baby's digestive system is introduced to new foods, it may react differently, and bowel habits may change. If your baby has started solid foods, meaning baby food, you may want to avoid or decrease rice cereal and bananas and try prunes, apricots, or pears, as these tend not to be constipating. Continue breast or bottle feeding as usual.
Though breastfed babies are rarely constipated, they can become so. Constipation in babies who are formula fed is more common, and you should talk to your doctor about switching infant formulas as a way to prevent or relieve constipation. Make sure your baby is drinking plenty of water, especially if you notice a decrease in urination. Constipation accompanied by pain or obvious discomfort lasting more than an hour, which is often considered colic, should be discussed with a pediatrician. Call your doctor immediately if you notice blood in your baby’s stool more than once or in excessive amounts.
Constipation may also be confused with or accompanied by gas and bloating. You can use over the counter drops for gas, such as Mylicon, but be sure to follow the directions on the insert carefully. Also, a warm compress on the tummy may serve as a relief and comfort to gassy or constipated babies. Most babies resume normal bowel habits within a few weeks, but if you are still concerned or nothing seems to be helping, you should always be comfortable calling your child’s doctor.