What are the signs of infant constipation? And what's the best way to treat it?

Infant constipation isn't common. However, signs a baby might have infant constipation include:

  • Hard or pellet-like stools
  • Bowel movements that appear painful or difficult to pass, causing your baby to arch his or her back or cry, accompanied by hard, dry stools
  • Bowel movements that are infrequent or less frequent than usual

If your newborn seems constipated, contact a health care provider for advice. But keep in mind that the frequency of bowel movements varies depending on an infant's age and what a baby is eating. It isn't unusual for an infant who is exclusively breastfed to not have a bowel movement for several days.

Straining to have a bowel movement isn't always a sign of infant constipation. Infants have weak abdominal muscles and often strain during bowel movements. Infant constipation is unlikely if your baby passes soft stools after a few minutes of straining.

Infant constipation often begins when a baby starts eating solid foods. If your baby seems constipated, consider simple changes to your infant's diet:

  • Water or fruit juice. Offer your baby a small amount of water or a daily serving of 100% apple, prune or pear juice in addition to usual feedings. 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.
  • Baby food. If your baby is eating solid foods, try pureed peas or prunes, which contain more fiber than other fruits and vegetables. Offer whole wheat, barley or multigrain cereals, which contain more fiber than rice cereal.

If you have made dietary changes and your baby is still struggling and passing hard stools, after a few days, ask a health care provider if an infant glycerin suppository may help. Glycerin suppositories are only meant for occasional use. Don't use mineral oil, stimulant laxatives or enemas to treat infant constipation.

Rarely, infant constipation is caused by an underlying condition, such as Hirschsprung's disease, hypothyroidism or cystic fibrosis. If infant constipation persists despite dietary changes or is accompanied by other signs or symptoms — such as vomiting or weakness — contact your baby's health care provider.

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