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How to help relieve constipation in infants
Symptoms, Treatment and When to Call a Doctor
Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Constipation (con-sta-PA-shun) in infants can worry parents. Most of the time, your baby is not really constipated. They may not have developed a routine for pooping yet. Some babies do not develop a bowel movement (BM) pattern for a while.
An infant’s BM pattern can change if their diet changes, like switching from breastmilk to formula, starting solid foods, or drinking less formula than usual. If your baby’s stool (poop) is not soft or easily passed, then they may be constipated.
In rare cases, constipation may be caused by a lack of nerves going to the intestines or by a problem with the way the intestine formed at birth. Your baby can be tested for these conditions if your health care provider feels it is needed.
Signs of Constipation
less stools than their usual pattern
straining more than normal to have a bowel movement
a change in how the stool looks from soft and mushy to:
small, hard pebbles, or like a large, round golf ball
loose and watery
abdomen (belly) bloated or swollen with gas
If your baby is not eating baby food yet, you may give 1 to 2 ounces of 100% fruit juice (pear, prune, cherry, or apple) once a day. Stop the juice if their stools become too loose.
If they are old enough to eat baby foods, feed them pureed pears, peaches, or prunes instead of giving them juice.
If your baby eats cereal, it may help to give oatmeal, wheat, or barley cereal. Rice cereal can cause constipation in some children.
Sometimes giving your baby a warm bath to relax them or exercising their legs, like riding a bicycle, will help stimulate the bowels to move (Picture 1).
If it has been a few days since your baby has pooped and the juice or pureed food has not worked, then you can try a glycerin suppository. Place your baby on their back. Gently push the suppository into their anus (bottom). Suppositories are meant for occasional use.
Contact your baby’s health care provider before giving them laxatives, baby mineral oil, or enemas to treat constipation.
Your child’s health care provider may order the following treatments:
Give your child medication.
Check your child’s temperature using a digital, rectal thermometer. Put a small amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) on its tip before inserting into the rectum. Taking a rectal temperature may stimulate the baby to pass stool.
When to Call the Health Care Provider
Call the health care provider if any of the following occurs:
Your baby is irritable and seems to be having stomach pain. Infants will pull their legs up to their stomach and cry when they are in pain.
Your baby has constipation and develops vomiting, and their belly looks like it is bloated or filled with gas.
You see blood in their stool.
Their constipation does not get better with treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, call your baby’s health care provider.
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Baby constipation: Top 7 home remedies
Babies often go a long time between bowel movements. Most of the time, it is normal for a baby to go days or even more than a week without a bowel movement. However, a baby may sometimes be constipated and need a little help.
If a baby is constipated, a pediatrician may recommend using home remedies as a first-line treatment for baby constipation.
Home remedies for constipation in a baby include:
Moving a baby’s legs can help relieve constipation.
As with adults, exercise and movement tend to stimulate a baby’s bowels.
However, as babies may not be walking or even crawling yet, a parent or caregiver may want to help them exercise to relieve constipation.
The parent or caregiver can gently move the baby’s legs while they are lying on their back to mimic the motion of riding a bicycle. Doing this may help the bowels function and relieve constipation.
2. A warm bath
Giving a baby a warm bath can relax their abdominal muscles and help them stop straining. It can also relieve some of the discomfort relating to constipation.
3. Dietary changes
Certain dietary changes may help constipation, but these will vary depending on the baby’s age and diet.
While breastfeeding a baby, a woman could eliminate certain foods, such as dairy, from her diet. It may take some trial and error to identify the dietary changes that help, and it is quite possible that changes in the diet will have no effect on the baby’s constipation.
For formula-fed babies, a parent or caregiver may want to try a different kind of formula. It is best not to switch to a gentle or dairy-free formula without consulting a pediatrician first. If one change does not make a difference, continuing to try different formulas is unlikely to help.
If an infant is eating solid foods, parents or caregivers should look to introduce foods that are good sources of fiber.
Many fruits and vegetables can help stimulate the bowels because of their higher fiber content. Good food choices for babies with constipation include:
whole grains, such as oatmeal or whole-grain bread or pasta
Young infants do not typically need supplemental liquids as they get their hydration from breast milk or formula.
However, babies that are constipated may benefit from a small amount of extra liquid.
Pediatricians sometimes recommend adding a small amount of water or, occasionally, fruit juice, to the baby’s diet when they are over 2–4 months old and are constipated.
There are several ways to massage a baby’s stomach to relieve constipation. These include:
Using the fingertip to make circular motions on the stomach in a clockwise pattern.
Walking the fingers around the naval in a clockwise pattern.
Holding the baby’s knees and feet together and gently pushing the feet toward the belly.
Stroking from the rib cage down past the belly button with the edge of a finger.
6. Fruit juice
A small amount of pure apple juice can help soften stool.
After a baby reaches 2–4 months of age, they can have a small amount of fruit juice, such as 100-percent prune or apple juice. This juice may help treat constipation.
Experts may recommend starting with about 2–4 ounces of fruit juice. The sugar in the juice is hard to digest. As a result, more liquid enters the intestines, which helps soften and break up the stool.
However, a parent or caregiver should not give fruit juice to a baby for the first time without consulting their pediatrician.
7. Taking a rectal temperature
When a baby is constipated, taking the baby’s rectal temperature with a clean, lubricated thermometer may help them pass stool.
It is important not to use this method very often, as it can make constipation worse. The baby may start not wanting to pass a bowel movement without help, or they may begin to associate having a bowel movement with discomfort, leading them to fuss or cry more during the process.
Anyone who feels as though they often need to use this method to help the baby have a bowel movement should talk to the baby’s doctor.
As infants may go for extended periods without a bowel movement, it can be hard to tell if they are constipated. Signs that indicate constipation in a baby include:
infrequent stools that are not soft in consistency
clay-like stool consistency
hard pellets of stool
long periods of straining or crying while trying to have a bowel movement
streaks of red blood in the stool
lack of appetite
a hard belly
Signs of constipation in babies vary depending on their age and diet. A normal bowel movement before a baby begins eating solid food should be very soft, almost like the consistency of peanut butter or even looser.
Hard baby stool prior to solid food is the most obvious indication of constipation in babies.
At first, breastfed babies may pass stool often since breast milk is easy to digest. However, once a baby is between 3 and 6 weeks old, they may only pass a large, soft stool once a week and sometimes even less.
Formula-fed babies tend to pass stool more frequently than breastfed babies. Most formula-fed babies will have a bowel movement at least once a day or every other day. However, some formula-fed babies may go longer between bowel movements without being constipated.
Once a parent introduces solid food to a baby’s diet, a baby may be more likely to experience constipation. A baby may also be more likely to become constipated if a parent or caregiver introduces cow’s milk (other than formula) to their diet.
Share on PinterestA doctor should assess a baby with ongoing constipation.
It is advisable to call a pediatrician if a baby has not passed a stool after a day or two and there are other signs present, such as:
blood in the stool
the baby seems to be irritable
the baby appears to have abdominal pain
there is no improvement in the baby’s constipation after taking steps to treat it
Treatment typically starts with home remedies. If home remedies do not work, a doctor may examine the baby and, in rare cases, prescribe medications, such as:
People should never give these medications to a baby unless a doctor prescribes them.
Constipation can lead to discomfort and irritability in a baby. People can try several at-home methods to help alleviate constipation.
If symptoms do not improve, it is best to speak to the infant’s pediatrician for additional strategies.
Read the article in Spanish.
What to do with constipation in a newborn?
Constipation in a newborn or infant is an extremely unpleasant problem for parents. And it is not always possible to quickly determine what is the cause of constipation in an infant. Most often, problems with bowel movements in babies are functional in nature and are directly related to the nutrition of the child.
Signs of constipation in a child of the first year of life
Infrequent dry and hard stools
Pungent odor of feces and flatus
Causes of constipation in a newborn child
Causes of constipation in newborns and infants, as a rule, are not associated with a serious pathology of the internal organs or the central nervous system. The main cause of constipation in a baby is malnutrition, early transfer of a child to supplementary feeding with infant formula, frequent changes in products during artificial feeding.
When breastfeeding, the formation of constipation in children of the first year of life is affected by poor nutrition of the mother, for example, the use of large amounts of animal fats and a lack of fiber in the diet. One possible cause of constipation in newborns is dehydration.
What to do if a child has problems with stool
If a child under one year old has acute constipation and there is anxiety, straining and arching, we actively massage the abdomen in a clockwise direction so that hand marks remain on the skin (but not bruises!) . We spread it on the stomach, do the exercise - legs to the head, children under one year old can massage the anus, if all this does not help - a children's candle with glycerin from the refrigerator.
If such situations are repeated often - a mandatory consultation with a pediatrician.
When introducing complementary foods to a baby with a tendency to constipation, introduce fruits and vegetables into the diet first.
If the child is older than a year and the process is chronic - evaluate nutrition - whether there are the necessary 5 servings of vegetables and fruits per day (portion - from the palm or fist of the baby). Estimate - how much water does the child drink per day? Is there enough physical activity during the day? What is the psychological climate in the family and the attitude - not to demand a chair from the child, not to swear and not to shout, not to discuss problems with other people in his presence, not to force him to sit on the potty, not to scold him for dirty panties when anointing.
It is better to choose laxatives based on macrogol or lactulose with the help of a doctor.
In parallel with laxatives, we conduct psychological work with the child at home and with a specialist - books about defecation, toilet games, etc.
In what case should you be very worried about constipation in a child? Namely:
if there is no meconium discharge in the first days of life;
retardation and constipation;
vomiting and tense abdomen;
blood in stool;
changes in hair growth and pigmentation of the sacrum and coccyx,
violation of the development of the sacrum;
changes in the anus - fistulas with discharge, hematomas, inflammation;
change in the muscular skeleton of the anterior abdominal wall - lack of muscles or insufficient development.
If a baby up to a year old is breastfed for several days (3-5 days, but not weeks!) Does not poop and does not worry - if he is cheerful and cheerful, eats well, does not spit up and does not stain the diaper, and farts well, in this no parental intervention required! The stool should be soft and not cause trouble during bowel movements.
In the treatment of constipation, toilet training is important - every day at the same time, preferably after eating and drinking - calmly and kindly go to the potty (if the toilet is, then there should be a support under the feet so that the knees are above the level of the priests) and try to poop. If there was no stool for several days, you can pre-put a glycerin suppository.
In the presence of painful defecation, fissures and blood, urgently show the child to a doctor (gastroenterologist or proctologist) and start treatment - local baths, suppositories and laxatives are applied. This is absolutely necessary in order to soften the stool and prevent the formation of persistent fear of defecation, which is then very difficult to remove. Before defecation with a dense stool, you can additionally lubricate the anus with baby oil. 9+7 (423) 267-61-30; +7 (423) 274-32-22; +7 914-704-32-22.
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Constipation in a child: what to do?
Constipation disrupts the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. The main manifestation of constipation is a rare stool, difficulty in emptying the intestinal tract. If emptying occurs every three days, but there is no swelling and discomfort, and the feces have a normal consistency, this is not considered constipation.
If your child is constipated, a specialist should be consulted. Initially, you should seek help from a gastroenterologist. The First Children's Medical Center employs the best pediatric gastroenterologists in Saratov: here you can get qualified medical care!
Symptoms of constipation
The main symptoms of constipation include:
infrequent bowel movements;
if the child pushes hard trying to go to the toilet;
if there is pain during defecation;
stools look like balls.
When the baby is breastfed, he can empty himself up to seven times a day, after each meal. During the first week, the frequency of emptying is three times a day.
When the baby is one month old, the chair will be daily. At two months of age and when complementary foods begin, stools can be once every two days. If the baby has a soft stool, he feels good, but at the same time he defecates once every few days, this is the norm.
Signs of constipation include: discomfort during bowel movements, moodiness, very hard stools. If this situation persists, you should contact your pediatrician.
It is important to adjust the feeding regimen. Do not overfeed the child, do not transfer to artificial feeding if the mother has little milk. The first step is to try to fix the situation. A nursing mother should drink more fluids, stop eating foods that cause flatulence, reduce intestinal motility. Only in extreme cases should be transferred to artificial mixtures.
If the baby is formula-fed, he should empty himself once a day. The main mistake in this case is that parents often change mixtures, try others. Mixtures should be adapted, sour-milk, which contain probiotics and prebiotics. It is also necessary to strictly follow the instructions, properly dilute the mixture, taking into account all proportions. The introduction of complementary foods should be on time. The diet should contain foods that contain a large amount of fiber.
After the introduction of complementary foods, the stool becomes formed, hard, less frequent. Until the age of three, bowel movements should be daily. After three years, the frequency of defecation should be at least three times a week.
Why constipation occurs
There are two types of constipation - organic and functional. The causes of organic constipation are:
anomalies in the development of the gastrointestinal tract;
pathology of the endocrine system;
violations of metabolic processes.
In a newborn child, this symptom may indicate a narrowing, lengthening or expansion of the intestinal tract.
The causes of functional constipation include:
psychological problems, such as being in an unfamiliar environment;
lack of fluid in the body;
errors in the diet;
negative reaction of the body to taking antibacterial drugs, drugs for the treatment of anemia, anticonvulsants;
congestion of bile in the gallbladder and its ducts;
In newborns, the nervous system is immature, it is just being formed. Therefore, children are unable to control the movements of their muscles during bowel movements. You can help them by gently bending the legs, pressing them to the tummy. With these movements, the pelvic muscles relax, the bowel is released much faster.
How the therapy works
The treatment of constipation requires a holistic approach. Treatment is prescribed in each case individually, depending on the cause of constipation.
To ensure the normal functioning of all organs, it is necessary to adjust the stool in children. You will need to adjust your diet and lifestyle, do not abuse laxatives, as they help only temporarily.
The main principles of therapy include:
Diet correction. Requires elimination of foods that can cause constipation. Among them are fermented milk products, rice, muffins, bakery products, pasta. The menu is recommended to include vegetable fiber, which is found in fresh fruits and vegetables. You should also abandon fast carbohydrates - flour products, sweets. You need to add to the menu more foods that contain potassium, for example, figs, dried apricots, prunes.
Observe the drinking regimen. It is important to drink clean drinking water. During the day, the child should drink at least 40 milliliters of water per kilogram of his weight.
According to the doctor's prescription, medicines, homeopathic remedies should be given to the baby. These include drugs for the outflow of bile, drugs that restore the intestinal microflora. You can use antihelminthics, laxatives, drugs with lactulose in the composition. Your doctor may also prescribe medications that contain polyethylene glycol. They retain moisture in the intestines, thin the stool.
In case of prolonged constipation, the child can be given a glycerine suppository, a microclyster as a stimulant.
Undergo physiotherapeutic procedures prescribed by the doctor, massage, do therapeutic exercises.
Provide a calm environment, help the baby psychologically so that he is not afraid to empty his intestines. You can read fairy tales, play with your child.
Train the intestines, after eating, put the child on the potty for a few minutes.
First you need to get rid of constipation and only then potty training. If constipation is not treated in a timely manner, this will entail unpleasant consequences for the health of the child.
Pediatric gastroenterologist: where to turn for help?
To get rid of this problem, you need to visit a pediatric gastroenterologist. First you need to find out why constipation occurs, adjust the diet, after which, depending on the cause, competent therapy is prescribed.
Contact the First Children's Medical Center: we employ pediatric gastroenterologists who have experience working with children of all ages. We monitor the constant improvement of staff qualifications and offer the services of only highly qualified doctors.