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What can you do for constipation in babies
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.
Senna-Based Laxatives for Kids’ Constipation: Are They Safe?
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.
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 bowel movements;
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 stool 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 only help 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, the baby should be given medicines, homeopathic remedies. 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 such a problem, it is necessary 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.
You can sign up for a consultation from 8.00 to 20.00 by calling (8452) 244-000. Reception is by appointment.
Constipation in children. Prevention. Diet therapy
Sabitova Vasily Ilyasovna Gastroenterologist
Constipation is widespread among both adults and children (5-30% depending on the diagnostic criteria). Symptoms become chronic in more than 30% of patients, not only cause discomfort and pain to the child himself, but also disrupt the quality of life of his family.
CONSTIPATION - a condition manifested by an increase in the intervals between bowel movements (compared to the individual norm) or systematically slow, difficult and / or insufficient bowel movements. Constipation also includes stools with “gruel”, but after defecation was absent for up to 3 days.
Constipation can be related to functional or organic causes (abnormalities, inflammation). In children, 90-95% of constipation is functional. The peak incidence of functional constipation falls on 2-4 years, when they begin to accustom the child to the potty / toilet.
Main causes of functional constipation
Wrong diet of a nursing mother
Insufficient drinking regime of a child with artificial feeding
Insufficient drinking regimen of a breast-fed child with the introduction of complementary foods
Early transition of the child to artificial feeding
Fast transition of the baby from one mixture to another (less than 7 days)
Irrational nutrition of the child (for a long time the child receives food with a large amount of proteins, fats and insufficient dietary fiber, abuse of drinks containing a large amount of astringents - tea, coffee, cocoa)
Excessive use of baby hygiene products or the development of an allergic reaction of the skin of the perianal area
Consequences of perinatal injuries of the nervous system
Rickets, vitamin D deficiency
Impaired thyroid function (deficiency - hypothyroidism)
Food allergy, especially cow's milk protein allergy
Forced potty training, period of adaptation to new conditions (nursery, kindergarten)
Physical inactivity - a sedentary lifestyle
Mental trauma or stress
Systematic suppression of the urge to empty the bowels, associated, for example, with the beginning of attending a kindergarten, school, etc.
Taking certain drugs
Constipation in family members
Frequency of defecation in children of different ages
Number of bowel movements per week
Number of bowel movements per day
0 – 3 months breastfeeding artificial feeding
5 - 40 5 - 20
6 - 12 months
5 - 28
1 - 3 years
4 years and older
3 - 14
In addition to the frequency of the chair, you should pay attention to its nature. For a more objective assessment, the “Bristol fecal shape scale” is convenient, since it is the shape of the feces, and not the frequency of the stool, that is more consistent with the time of intestinal transit.
Bristol stool scale
In accordance with this scale, 3 and 4 form of feces is regarded as normal, and 1 and 2 indicate delayed transit (constipation). Quite often, in practice, there are situations when a child has a bowel movement frequency within the normal range, but the stool is dense, fragmented, in a meager amount. These signs indicate incomplete emptying of the bowels and are considered as manifestations of constipation.
The consistency of the stool in newborns and infants should be mushy. From 6 months to 1.5 - 2 years, feces can be both formalized and mushy. From the age of two, the chair must be decorated.
Signs and symptoms of constipation
abdominal pain, often bursting, aching, sometimes colicky
change in the shape and consistency of the stool
unpleasant smell of flatus and stool
may have pain during bowel movements
straining to defecate
there may be blood in the stool - on the surface of the feces or in the form of traces on a napkin (indicates an anal fissure)
If you do not eliminate constipation and do not establish bowel movements, then there is a risk of coprostasis (formation of fecal stones) and fecal intoxication:
loss of appetite
lack of energy
skin symptoms - dryness, rash, peeling
fecal incontinence, stool spotting
urinary retention and incontinence due to pressure from a crowded bowel on the bladder
bleeding from fissures, hemorrhoids
The treatment of constipation involves the following goals:
1. Normalization of stool consistency (soft, painless stools)
2. Regularity of bowel movements (prevention of re-accumulation of feces)
The treatment of constipation is a sequential, complex, individual process and consists of several stages:
child and parent education
correction of nutrition and drinking regimen
elimination of existing coprostasis with the help of medications
It is necessary to exclude factors that provoke and contribute to constipation (normalization of motor and nutritional regimen, discontinuation of medications that can cause constipation, identification of a food allergen, exclusion or confirmation of neuromuscular disease, celiac disease, etc.).
Lifestyle normalization includes:
development of a conditioned reflex
light abdominal massage training
for small children - laying out on the stomach, bending the legs to the stomach.
Education is the first step in the treatment of functional constipation. It must be remembered that episodes of fecal smearing and encopresis (fecal incontinence) are not arbitrary and should not be blamed on the child, who may already be frightened and disoriented. In some cases, when the intra-family situation is difficult, the help of a family psychologist may be needed.
It is important to understand that the treatment of functional constipation can be lengthy, based on trust, partnership and requires patience. Modern laxatives that are legal in children will not make the intestines “lazy”, will not cause “addiction”, they enter the bloodstream in minimal amounts or are not absorbed at all and are safe for long-term use.
Correction of the behavior of a child with constipation is based on the development of a routine of visiting the toilet, in order to achieve regular defecation. Defecation should be every time at the same time. The urge to defecate is based on the gastrocecal reflex, which manifests itself in the morning 1 hour after eating. A child with constipation needs to spend 3-10 minutes in the toilet (depending on age). It is necessary to plant the child on a potty or offer to visit the toilet after each meal.
A prerequisite for effective defecation is to provide a good support for the legs (a low bench on which the child can put his feet), which helps to increase intra-abdominal pressure.
If the defecation is not successful, the child should never be punished and vice versa. The daily frequency of bowel movements can be noted in a diary, which can be analyzed at a scheduled visit to the doctor.
Treatment of constipation should begin with lifestyle changes, which include dietary modification, drinking regimen and physical activity.
Calculation of fluid volume for healthy children
Children under 1 year of age should drink at least 100 ml of water per day.
For healthy children weighing 10 to 20 kg the water requirement is calculated using the formula:
100 ml (volume of water for children under 1 year old) + 50 ml per kg for body weight over 10 kg.
For example, with a mass of 12 kg: 100 ml + 2 x 50 ml = 200 ml.
A child weighing 20 kg should drink water: 100 ml + 50 x 10 = 600 ml
For children weighing over 20 kg the following formula is suggested for calculation:
600 ml (volume of water for a child weighing 20 kg) + 20 ml for each kg over 20 kg.
For children over 3-5 years old you can use the calculation of the amount of water: 30ml / kg of weight
Principles of Dietary Therapy for Constipation:
meeting physical needs for nutrients and energy
exclusion of excessive consumption of proteins and fats, which can inhibit intestinal motility
enrichment of the diet with dietary fiber
normalization of intestinal microflora with pro- and prebiotics
If the child is breastfed, then the mother's nutrition is corrected (restriction of products that promote gas formation). With artificial feeding, special mixtures are shown. For constipation associated with an allergy to cow's milk protein, therapeutic mixtures are prescribed if the child is bottle-fed. If the child is breastfed, cow's milk and products based on it are completely excluded from the mother's diet.
After the introduction of “thick” complementary foods, boiled water is necessary for all children, regardless of the type of feeding.
For older children, it is recommended to eat foods rich in vegetable fibers. It is not recommended to “smear food”, puree, “snacks”, “eating on the go”. Food should be crumbly, meat / poultry / fish - “piece”. A “bulk” breakfast is required to stimulate the “gastrocecal reflex”.
The main source of coarse-fiber vegetable fiber, containing a large amount of dietary fiber, is cereal bran, rye bread, as well as a number of vegetables and fruits. According to the principles of evidence-based medicine, a statistically significant increase in stool frequency and improvement in its consistency was demonstrated with the use of fiber compared with placebo.
Bran, as the main source of vegetable fiber, is recommended to be added to the second and third courses, after pouring boiling water over it and settling for 20 minutes. Bran can also be used in between meals, drinking plenty of fluids. For school-age children, the total amount of fluid when taking bran should be at least 1.5-2 liters per day, otherwise they mainly act as sorbents, absorbing fluid from the intestines, thereby increasing constipation. The dose is selected individually, it is recommended to start with 1 teaspoon 2-3 times a day, with a gradual increase to 40 g per day. When the effect is achieved, the dose is reduced and limited to one dose.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (2009) recommends a fiber intake of 0.5 g/kg/day (maximum 35 g/day) for all children. Fiber intake below the minimum recommended value has been shown to be a risk factor for chronic constipation in children.
However, long-term intake of a large amount of plant fibers due to fermentation by intestinal microflora is naturally accompanied by bloating and flatulence.
Children with constipation are shown to take cool liquids on an empty stomach (drinking and mineral water, juice, compotes, kvass), to enhance the laxative effect, it is possible to add honey, xylitol or sorbitol. It is very beneficial for bowel function to increase the intake of juices containing sorbitol/sorbitol, such as juice from plums, pears, apricots, peaches and apples,
With “sluggish” bowel function (hypomotor constipation), cool mineral water of medium and high mineralization is used, such as Essentuki 17, Batalinskaya, Arzni, Donat Magnesium, etc.; with spastic constipation (hypermotor constipation, stool form more often type 1) - warm and low mineralization (Essentuki 4). Calculation of mineral water - 3-5 ml / kg per day.
It is necessary to limit milk in its pure form and in dishes, as flatulence may occur with the appearance or intensification of abdominal pain. It is better to replace whole milk with sour-milk products - kefir, acidophilus, yogurt, yogurt, etc.
The diet of children with constipation includes dishes rich in vegetable fiber - salads from fresh vegetables, greens 2-3 times a day, baked apples, stewed vegetables, diluted vegetable and fruit juices with pulp. Food is cooked mostly unground, steamed or boiled in water.
It is preferable to take raw vegetables and fruits (in the absence of contraindications). Especially recommended are tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, carrots, beets, lettuce, cauliflower, apples. Dried fruits (prunes, dried apricots, figs) are given in soaked form and as part of cooked dishes. White cabbage, young green beans, green peas are allowed with good tolerance. Parsley, dill, celery are good to add to various dishes and salads.
If after reading the article you still have questions or you do not understand how to apply the recommendations in your particular case, we invite you and your child to be examined by a pediatric gastroenterologist at the DDC. For the convenience of parents, you can make an appointment with a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children's Diagnostic Center on a weekday and on Saturdays.