The Scoop on Poop: When Baby is Constipated

by Melissa Jaramillo and Julie Snyder

At one time or another, we've all been there. Having a need to go but finding the "plumbing" to be a little uncooperative. As an adult, it is generally a passing (pun intended) discomfort. For an infant however, with an inability to communicate or understand either the cause or solution, the misery can be unbearable both for him and for you! Let's get started by getting the "scoop on poop" -- or in this case, rather, the lack thereof!

What is Constipation?

Constipation in babies refers more to the consistency of the stool than the frequency. Once out of the newborn stage, some babies just don't go as often. True constipation occurs when the baby's stools cause significant difficulty and discomfort when being passed, because they are very dense and hard.

Is your baby breastfed? Breast milk is digested so efficiently that there isn't a lot of waste. If your little one is older than six weeks, not started on solids yet and seems comfortable, enjoy the vacation from changing poopy diapers! It can be completely normal to go only once every eight days -- as long as the stool is soft when it comes out. A baby who has soft, easy-to-pass stools once a week, even if he seems to strain a lot in the process, isn't constipated.

Encouraging a Bowel Movement

Which solids are most productive? At 4 months, some have been introduced to solids. If your baby has been eating rice cereal, try switching to oatmeal or barley (single grain) instead. Rice, bananas and applesauce, and for some babies, squash and carrots tend to be more binding (keep that in mind for the opposite problem that is bound to come along at some point). Babies six months and up might benefit from fruits such as pears, peaches, and yes, prunes. These fruits have a reputation for getting things moving.

Is your baby dehydrated? Sometimes constipation responds to fluid intake. Breastfeed more often or if formula fed, with your doctor's okay, you may try to give a couple of ounces of water at a non-feeding time. Also, talk with your pediatrician about adding in a teaspoon of Karo Syrup or sugar to four ounces water or formula and mixing well.

A stimulated sphincter is a relaxed sphincter: Lubricate a rectal thermometer, insert as if you were going to take baby's temperature and stimulate the sphincter by gently moving the thermometer in and out about an half inch. Have baby on a diaper and be ready with wipes!

Should you resort to a stool softener? If constipation remains a problem, you may also want to ask if you could try a product called Senacot liquid. The doctor will let you know the safe dosage depending on your baby's age and weight.

Relax in the tub: Warning! Have bathtub cleaning supplies on hand! This technique is messy, but often effective. When your baby begins straining, put in the tub with the water around chest-height. Once your baby is relaxed in the bath, massage the abdomen. The result? Relaxed muscles make pooping easier. Need I say more?

Suppositories! Finally, if your baby is really uncomfortable due to constipation, go ahead and get some infant glycerin suppositories. Now this is super unpleasant. Isn't it amazing the things that we will do for our children? To help relieve your child's discomfort:

  1. Lay the baby wherever you change diapers (bed, changing table).
  2. Open the diaper but leave it under his/her bottom.
  3. Now insert one of the suppositories HALFWAY -- and hold it there for approximately 5 minutes. (Told you that it wasn't pleasant!)

I know the instructions say to insert and let go. You can't. If you do, the baby will merely pass gas and push it out before it has had any time to work.

Some babies (yes, this tip gets better -- you may roll eyes now) will require that you *stimulate* by inserting part way, removing and repeating the action. (Keep repeating to yourself: "I love my son/daughter" over and over again.) After about 5 minutes, the suppository should have melted and started to work.

Word of warning -- you will feel pressure. And yes, it may (this IS what you are hoping for!) stimulate enough to start a bowel movement. Do be prepared and have wipes on hand. Also, if your child has not *gone* in a while, you may have to repeat the process later to fully *relieve* the constipation.

Dietary Changes

If your baby is breastfed, take a look at mom's diet. Just as during pregnancy, what is eaten does have a similar effect on baby. Try adding in more fruits and veggies, but being careful to avoid those things that tend to have a gassy/binding effect.

Should constipation continue to be an issue for your formula fed baby, you may want to talk with your pediatrician about switching to a different brand or type. Some babies may do well with a lower iron formula; others may have difficulties digesting the proteins from the cow's milk. This recommendation however is one that should be discussed with your pediatrician to make the proper choice for your child's particular circumstance.

Need More Help?

Prolonged, severe constipation can have a medical cause but that's a very rare occurrence. Contact your pediatrician if the infrequent, hard stools seem to be causing significant discomfort to your baby.

Good luck and congratulations on your little one! Ah, the joys of parenthood!

Melissa Jaramillo is mom to many. She's passionate about building, encouraging, and strengthening families on this adventure known as parenthood!

Copyright © Melissa Jaramillo. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.