How to help a constipated baby

By Jenilee Matz, MPH May 31, 2023 • 4 min

Constipation is relatively common in babies and children, depending on their age. Your baby may be constipated if they have hard stools, or if they have trouble having a bowel movement or pain when trying to pass stools. You may wonder what to do or what to give your infant if they appear constipated. Often, home remedies can help.

Signs of constipation in babies

During the first month of life, newborns typically have a bowel movement at least once each day. Most older babies have at least one bowel movement each day, too. However, what's considered normal varies among babies and depends on their age and diet. Some infants may only have a bowel movement every other day. Older breastfed infants may have a bowel movement after every feeding or go days between passing stools.

Symptoms of constipation in infants include:

  • Hard stools that may contain blood
  • Fewer bowel movements than usual
  • Excessive fussiness
  • Spitting up more than normal
  • Straining for more than 10 minutes without producing a bowel movement

Know that if your infant strains for a few minutes, becomes red in the face or cries during bowel movements, it doesn't necessarily mean they're constipated. If your baby passes a soft stool shortly after straining, they're most likely not constipated. Babies have weak stomach muscles, so straining is common.

Easing constipation in babies

Most of the time, infant constipation improves with dietary changes. If your infant seems constipated, contact their healthcare provider for advice. They may suggest these natural remedies:

  • Offer water or 100% fruit juice to your baby in between feedings. Liquids can soften stools and make them easier to pass. Offer your baby extra water, or for babies over four months old, give them 2 to 4 ounces of 100% pear, prune, apple, cherry or grape juice two times per day.
  • Serve foods that contains fiber. If your baby is four months or older and eats solid foods, give them baby food that is high in fiber twice each day. Fiber adds bulk to stool and can help your infant have bowel movements more often. Try peas, pears, prunes, peaches, plums, apricots, beans and spinach. If your baby eats rice cereal, offer them a higher fiber alternative, such as whole wheat, multigrain or barley cereal.
  • Consider limiting cow's milk. In some cases, transitioning from breast milk or formula to cow's milk may trigger constipation. Depending on the advice of your child’s healthcare provider, you may consider trying a cow’s milk-free diet for a temporary period to see if symptoms improve. 

If dietary changes don't bring your baby relief, contact their healthcare provider. There are laxatives and stool softeners available for children. However, do not give your baby any over-the-counter products for constipation without talking to their healthcare provider first.

When to contact your child's healthcare provider

In rare cases, constipation may be due to an underlying health problem. Contact your baby's healthcare provider if dietary changes don't help their constipation or if they have other symptoms, such as vomiting or weakness. Also, let your newborn's provider know if they don't have a bowel movement each day.

Clinically reviewed and updated May 2023.

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