Just as with adults, constipation can also affect children from time to time, and rarely, babies, too. Though it’s normal for babies to sometimes have fewer bowel movements than you may expect, many parents wonder whether their baby is in fact constipated when she poops less frequently. Discover some of the telltale signs of constipation and learn how to help your baby if she’s constipated.

What Is Constipation in Babies?

To understand baby constipation, it’s important to know what stools are like for infants. Although every baby is different, and there’s a broad range of what’s considered normal when it comes to pooping, many babies will poop after each feeding in the first weeks of life. Then, after about 3 to 6 weeks of age, some breastfed babies will poop less often, even as little as once a week. That's because breast milk creates almost no solid waste that has to be eliminated from the digestive system. Formula-fed babies tend to poop once a day or once every other day.

In terms of consistency, your baby’s stools should be soft, like peanut butter, when everything is normal and regular. Your baby may be constipated if she experiences hard, dry bowel movements, which can be difficult or even painful to pass. And, if your baby’s constipated, her bowel movements may be more infrequent than what’s typical or normal for your baby.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Infant Constipation?

The following signs may indicate your baby is constipated:

  • Your baby has hard bowel movements that look like round, ball-shaped pellets

  • Your baby may arch her back or cry when having difficulty passing a bowel movement. Keep in mind that it’s common for infants to strain when pooping—after all your baby will most likely be pooping while lying on her back, which isn’t that easy to do. If your baby passes a soft bowel movement after straining, she is probably not constipated

  • Your baby's bowel movements are happening less frequently than normal.

RELATED ARTICLE

Care
Baby Poop — The Ultimate Guide

How Can You Tell if Your Baby Is Constipated?

If you suspect your baby may be constipated, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is she more fussy than usual?

  • Is she spitting up more often?

  • Is she having significantly fewer bowel movements than at other times?

  • Are her stools harder than usual, and/or are they bloody?

  • Does she strain for longer than 10 minutes when she needs to poop but still not pass anything?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, your little one may be constipated.

What Can Cause Infant Constipation?

Constipation is rare in young babies, particularly in those who are not yet eating solid foods. It’s more likely to occur in your baby once you introduce solids. Your baby’s pattern of bowel movements will vary depending on his age and what he’s eaten recently. In very rare cases, your baby’s constipation may be caused by an underlying condition, such as Hirschsprung's disease, hypothyroidism, or cystic fibrosis. Contact his healthcare provider if you think your baby has constipation due to of any of these conditions, or if you have any questions about your baby's symptoms.

How Long Can Your Baby Go Without Pooping?

The frequency of your baby’s bowel movements can vary from day to day, and every baby is different. A baby who is consuming formula tends to poop at least once per day, but it’s possible for her not to poop for a day or two without necessarily being constipated. In the early weeks, breastfed babies may poop more often since breast milk is easily digested, but at around 3 to 6 weeks old breastfed babies may start having fewer bowel movements, with as little as one or two per week, but still not be constipated.

What Are Some Home Remedies for Baby Constipation?

If your baby becomes constipated once he’s started on solid foods, check in with your healthcare provider, who may recommend any of the following changes or additions to his diet to help relieve constipation:

  • Water. If your baby is over 6 months old (the age from when it’s OK for him to drink water), offer him a little water in a sippy cup with his meals. This shouldn’t replace breast milk or formula, however.

  • Fruit juice. A few ounces of 100 percent fruit juice such as apple, pear, or prune juice can also help your baby. These juices contain sorbitol, which works like a natural laxative.

  • Certain fruits and vegetables. Once your baby is eating solid foods, give him pureed foods such as prunes, pears, peaches, and peas. These can help with constipation since they contain more fiber than other fruits and vegetables.

  • Infant cereals. Try feeding him whole-wheat, barley, or multigrain infant cereal once he is eating solid foods. These three types contain more fiber than rice cereal and may help get things moving.

If the above dietary changes haven’t given your baby relief, contact his healthcare provider again for guidance.

What Can You Give Your Baby for Constipation?

If changes in your baby’s diet haven’t given him relief from constipation, your baby’s healthcare provider might recommend an infant glycerin suppository, which is placed in your baby’s rectum. These types of suppositories are meant to be used only occasionally, and shouldn’t be overused. Do not use mineral oil, enemas, constipation medicine, or any stimulating laxatives to treat your baby’s constipation. Always follow your healthcare provider’s advice.

When Should You Contact Your Baby’s Healthcare Provider?

You may be asking yourself “When should I worry about my baby’s constipation?” There are certain signs and symptoms to look out for that can indicate more urgent medical care may be required. If you notice the following, contact your baby’s healthcare provider right away so your little one can get checked out:

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Tiredness or weakness

  • Loss of appetite

  • A swollen belly

  • Blood in your baby’s poop.

The Big Picture

Constipation is more likely to happen after your baby starts eating solid foods for the first time at around 6 months of age). It takes time to adjust to new foods and this can lead to constipation from time to time. Otherwise, constipation in babies is fairly uncommon, so it could just be that your baby is going a few days without a bowel movement and isn’t actually constipated. Knowing what symptoms to look out for, such as pellet-like poop, can be of great help in determining what the situation is. Although constipation can be uncomfortable for your baby, especially when she’s straining to poop, a simple treatment may do the trick. Subtle changes in diet can help relieve constipation, like adding fiber-rich foods or offering a little water. If these dietary changes don’t help, contact your baby’s healthcare provider, who may recommend the use of suppositories or another form of treatment. How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.