Baby Constipation

Parents are often concerned about baby constipation. Usually this is because the baby is squirming and wriggling when passing poop (poo, stool) - however, this is normal behavior for babies and doesn't necessarily mean constipation.

You can find out more by reading on, or to go to a specific question, click on the link below.

To read about what normal baby poop looks like, click here

To read about toddler constipation, click here

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What is baby constipation?

Newborn constipation occurs when your new baby passes very hard and dry stools (poop, poo). It doesn't matter if your baby doesn't poop for 7 days as long as the stool (poop, poo) is soft. There is a wide variation on the normal frequency babies poop - from several times a day to only once a week.

Although in toddlers, not passing poop (poo, stool) for a week would mean constipation, in babies it is the consistency of the poop (poo, stool) that is important not the frequency.

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How do I know if my baby is constipated?

With newborn constipation, your baby will pass a very hard and dry stool (poop, poo). Sometimes there can be blood around the stool because it stretches and breaks the lining of the anus as it is passed.

If your baby is only passing stools (poop, poo) once a week but it is runny then this is not constipation. Keep on doing what you are doing and don't be concerned.

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Does breast feeding cause baby constipation?

Not usually. Breast milk is so natural that it is digested relatively easily and so it is very unusual for breast-fed babies to get constipated, although they may not poop for several days at a time. It is not how often your baby poops but how hard it is that determines whether she has baby constipation.

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Is baby constipation caused by iron in formula feeds?

No. If you are giving your baby formula it is best to give one that does have iron in it. Bottle fed babies have less liquid stools (poop, poo) than breast-fed babies but it is not because of the iron. Formula milk is just harder for the body to digest. Sometimes babies get constipation on formula - don't change to a formula that doesn't have iron, though, as the iron is important for your baby.

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Why does my baby seem distressed when she poops?

That is normal - babies often squirm around when they poop - they have to get their bowels moving. It doesn't mean they are constipated. Just imagine what it would feel like if you were lying on your back trying to poop.

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What can I do to help my baby poop?

If your baby is having a lot of trouble pooping, you can try the following:

  • put her in a warm bath. That should relax her enough to go.
  • try massaging her tummy - using a clockwise motion
  • move her legs as if she's riding a bicycle.

Pushing the legs up to the chest puts her in a squatting position which can make it easier to poop.

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What is the treatment for baby constipation?

I don't like giving medications to babies if I can help it and only do so if the baby poop is very hard and dry, not if the baby poop is not very frequent. Before I consider medications, I try simple measures for newborn constipation.

  • The first thing I would advise is giving extra water (cooled boiled water) in between feeds.
  • If you are formula feeding your baby, try a different formula (but make sure you use one with iron)
  • If your baby is older than 6 months, give more fruit -such as pureed pears. Apricots, prunes, plums and peaches are also good choices.
  • Between 4 - 6 months, give a small amount of fruit - pureed pears would be my first choice. Don't give any baby less than 4 months old solid food.
  • Never give fruit juice to a baby less than 6 months of age. Over 6 months of age, a little bit of fruit juice, for example apple juice, can soften the stool (poop, poo)
  • Sometimes a small glycerine suppository will work for newborn constipation- slice a normal small glycerine suppository into narrow chips that can easily be passed into the baby's back passage (anus) without undue stretching. Lubricate one glycerine chip with a water-based lubricant (like KY jelly) and gently push it into the back passage (anus). Wait for a result.

Occasionally, laxatives are necessary - discuss this with your doctor. To read more on laxative, click here

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When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if:

your baby didn't pass meconuim (dark green / black stool) within 24 hours of birth

your baby is irritable or not thriving (gaining weight well) - she may have cow's milk protein intolerance. Click here to check your baby's growth progress is normal

you are worried about your baby being slow to develop - she may need a repeat thyroid test

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References

  • AAP Committee on Nutrition. The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics. Pediatrics. May 2001. 107(5): 1210-1213
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To go to the top of the Baby Constipation page, click here

To read about other causes of blood in the diaper, click here

To go to the Newborn Baby problem page, click here

To go to the main Constipation page, click here

To return to the Home page, click here


Last reviewed 13 May 2011

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.


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