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Constipation in an infant: Ways to deal with constipation in children

Constipation is a common problem in infants that can cause discomfort and distress.

6 mins to read Mar 21, 2024

If you're a parent of a feculent baby 6 months old or thereabouts, understanding how to recognize, treat, and prevent constipation can be beneficial. This comprehensive guide lays out everything you need to know about managing constipation in infants, including recognizing the symptoms, understanding the causes, and learning about effective home remedies.


How to recognize constipation in infants?

Constipation in infants is not always about the frequency of bowel movements but often concerns the difficulty and discomfort experienced during the process. An infant might be constipated if their stools are hard, dry, and seem difficult to pass, or if they appear uncomfortable during bowel movements. A noticeable decrease in the frequency of bowel movements can also signal constipation, particularly if the infant is older than the neonatal stage and has settled into a somewhat predictable pattern of bowel habits.


Typical symptoms of constipation in infants

Constipation in infants can manifest in several ways. It can sometimes be challenging for parents to recognize, especially if they are new to parenting. Observing your baby closely for signs of discomfort or changes in bowel movement patterns is crucial. Here are some typical symptoms that can indicate constipation in infants:

  1. Infrequent bowel movements: While it's normal for the frequency of bowel movements to vary among infants, a noticeable decrease, especially if your baby seems uncomfortable, could suggest constipation. An infant who usually passes stools several times a day but suddenly shifts to much less frequent bowel movements may be experiencing constipation.
  2. Hard, dry stools: This is one of the most telltale signs of constipation. The stools of a constipated infant are often hard and dry. They might look like small, hard pellets. Passing these stools can be painful for the baby, leading to fussiness or distress during or after bowel movements.
  3. Straining and discomfort: Observing your baby straining hard with little stool to show for it or appearing extremely uncomfortable during bowel movements is a sign that something isn’t right. You might notice grimacing, redness of the face, or even crying.
  4. Belly discomfort and bloating: A constipated infant might have a hard belly to the touch and may exhibit signs of gassiness, bloating, or discomfort. They might also seem less interested in eating, as a full or uncomfortable belly can affect their appetite.
  5. Bloody stools: On rare occasions, constipation might cause tiny fissures or tears in the anus, leading to streaks of blood in the stool. While this can alarm parents, it’s usually a result of straining against the hard stools.
  6. Behavioral changes: Discomfort associated with constipation can lead to noticeable changes in your baby's behavior. You might find them being fussier than usual, crying more often, or showing difficulty in sleeping comfortably.


Did you know that…

Early intervention can help mitigate discomfort and prevent constipation from worsening. Understanding these symptoms allows parents to promptly identify when their infant might be constipated and take steps to alleviate their discomfort. Whether it's adjusting the diet, increasing hydration, or seeking medical advice, recognizing these symptoms is the first step toward helping your little one feel better. Always remember that each infant might display different symptoms or a combination thereof, so getting to know your baby’s patterns can help in effectively managing their bowel health.


Causes of constipation in infants

Constipation in infants can be attributed to a variety of factors, ranging from dietary changes to lifestyle or even medical conditions. Understanding these causes can aid parents and caregivers in preventing and managing constipation effectively. Some of the common causes of constipation in infants are:

  1. Dietary Changes: One of the most common causes of constipation in infants is a change in their diet. This can occur during several transition periods:
  • From Breast Milk to Formula: Breast milk contains components that are naturally easy for infants to digest and can encourage soft stools. Formula, on the other hand, might be harder for some babies to digest, leading to constipation.
  • Introduction of Solid Foods: As infants begin to consume solid foods, their digestive systems need time to adjust. Certain solid foods, especially those low in fiber, can contribute to constipation.
  • Dehydration: Infants who are not receiving enough fluids can become dehydrated, leading to harder stools. This is more common in older infants who might be consuming less fluid due to the introduction of solid foods or those who are on formula.
  1. Insufficient Fiber: For infants who have started solid foods, a diet that lacks sufficient fiber can lead to constipation. Fiber helps to bulk up stools and promotes regular bowel movements.
  2. Physical Activity: Reduced physical activity can influence bowel movements. While younger infants might not be mobile, even the reduced movement of limbs or less tummy time can impact their digestion.
  3. Medical Conditions or Medications: In rare cases, underlying medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, metabolic disorders, or anomalies in the digestive tract can cause constipation. Certain medications or supplements given to infants, such as high-dose iron supplements, can also lead to constipation.
  4. Routine Changes: Infants thrive on routine. Significant changes in their daily routine can affect their bowel movements. This can include travel, changes in feeding schedules, or environmental changes.
  5. Overuse of Stimulant Laxatives: If an infant has been previously treated for constipation with stimulant laxatives (under medical advice), overuse can sometimes lead to dependence and worsen constipation over time.


Did you know that…

Recognizing the potential causes of constipation can help parents and caregivers make informed decisions about their infant's diet, activity level, and overall care. In cases where dietary adjustments and increased hydration don't alleviate the issue, it's essential to consult with a pediatrician to explore other possible causes and solutions. Early intervention and addressing the root cause of constipation can lead to faster relief and a happier, more comfortable baby.


Home remedies for constipation in a baby

When it comes to treating constipation in infants, several effective home remedies can alleviate symptoms and promote regular bowel movements:

  • Hydration: Ensuring your baby is adequately hydrated can soften stools and make passing them more comfortable. Offer small amounts of water to a baby over 6 months old, as advised by a pediatrician.
  • Diet modification: For babies eating solid foods, incorporating foods high in fiber can help. Pureed prunes, peaches, or pears can sometimes offer relief.
  • Gentle massage: Gently massaging your baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction can stimulate digestion and help ease constipation.
  • Warm baths: A warm bath can relax your baby’s abdominal muscles, reducing the discomfort associated with constipation.
  • Exercise: For infants, moving the legs in a gentle bicycling motion can help stimulate their bowel movements.

It's important to approach these remedies with care and consult a pediatrician before trying anything new, especially for babies under 6 months old.

Constipation in infants is a common issue that, while usually not serious, can cause discomfort for both the baby and the parents. Recognizing the signs of constipation, understanding its causes, and knowing how to provide relief are key steps in managing this condition. Most instances of constipation can be effectively treated at home with simple remedies. However, if symptoms persist or if you have concerns, it's essential to consult a pediatrician for further advice. Ensuring your baby’s comfort and well-being is paramount. With the right approach, constipation can usually be resolved quickly and easily.