Parents and caregivers often worry about the frequency and amount of stool that their baby is producing. In the first couple months of life, a breastfed baby may stool after every feed. Formula fed babies tend to stool less often but still have soft stools once or twice a day. However, even some healthy babies can go several days without a bowel movement. Become familiar with your infant’s normal bowel patterns. Make note of the size and consistency of the stools so you can detect when constipation might be occurring.
Constipation due to breast milk is unusual, so if your breastfed infant is constipated, it is probably due to a reason other than diet. Formula-fed babies usually stool less, but tend to pass a stool at least every day or two. No matter the frequency, as long as the stools are soft, there is usually no need to worry. However, hard, dry bowel movements are a sign of constipation and can be very uncomfortable or even painful for your baby.
While constipation isn’t a medical emergency, it can result in a cranky baby and might signal an underlying condition. With infants under 6 months of age, it’s best to consult with your pediatrician, even though the odds are very slim that there’s anything seriously wrong. The most common cause of constipation among infants is a change in diet, usually the addition of solid foods. To get things moving again, here are a few possible remedies:
- Fruit juice—If your baby has mild or occasional episodes of constipation, ask your doctor about giving small amounts of apple, pear, or prune juice. Dosage guidelines are typically 1 ounce for every month of life up to 4 months of age. For example, a 1-month-old baby would get up to 1 ounce of juice, a 2-month-old baby would get up to 2 ounces of juice, and so on. The natural sugars in fruit juice aren’t digested well, which draws fluid into the intestines and loosens the stool. It is not recommended to give plain water to infants this young as it may mess up their electrolyte balance, so stick with juice when constipated.
- Tummy massage—Gently massage and rub your baby’s tummy by placing your hands at the navel and massaging in a clockwise, circulation motion, moving your hand out and away from the center of the belly.
- Bicycle legs—Place your baby on their back and lightly hold the legs in a half-bent position. Gently begin to move your baby’s legs as if riding a bicycle. Alternate a tummy massage with bicycle legs. Bicycle legs is also a good way to relieve gas.
- Warm bath—Some doctors suggest giving a constipated baby a warm bath to help relax your baby and get things moving again. Add a tummy massage when drying your baby. Consult your doctor to see if a warm bath is right for your baby.
Take other signs into consideration when determining whether baby is constipated. Is there blood in the stool or around the rectum? Is baby vomiting? Is your baby irritable, lethargic, or feverish? These are all indications that a doctor needs to be consulted.
One thing you should not do is use over-the-counter laxatives or an enema to treat your infant’s constipation. These should only be used under the strict supervision and recommendation of a doctor.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
- The amount of stool a baby passes depends on the baby. Become familiar with your baby’s stool schedule.
- Formula-fed babies usually stool less than their breastfed counterparts, but tend to pass usually every day or two.
- Try “bicycle legs” — having your baby on their back and moving their legs as if they were on a bike.
- Don’t ever give your baby over-the-counter laxatives or enemas.