How to treat infant constipation

What are the signs of infant constipation? And what’s the best way to treat it? Answer from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

Infant constipation is the passage of hard, dry bowel movements — not necessarily the absence of daily bowel movements. Infant constipation often begins when a baby transitions from breast milk to formula or begins eating solid foods.

If your newborn seems to be constipated, contact his or her doctor for advice. If your older baby seems to be constipated, try simple dietary changes:

Water. Offer your baby a daily serving of water in addition to usual feedings. Start with 2 to 4 ounces (about 60 to 120 milliliters). Try more or less as you gauge your baby’s response to the water. Remember, though, the water doesn’t replace normal feedings with breast milk or formula.

Fruit juice. If water doesn’t seem to help, offer your baby a daily serving of apple, prune or pear juice in addition to usual feedings. Start with 2 to 4 ounces (about 60 to 120 milliliters), and experiment to determine whether your baby needs more or less.

Baby food. If your baby is eating solid foods, try pureed pears or prunes. Offer barley cereal instead of rice cereal.

To ease the passage of hard stools, consider applying a small amount of water-based lubricant to your baby’s anus. Don’t use mineral oil, laxatives or enemas to treat infant constipation.

If your baby is struggling and it’s been a few days since his or her last bowel movement, it might help to place an infant glycerin suppository into your baby’s anus. Glycerin suppositories are available without a prescription. They’re only meant for occasional use, however, if dietary changes aren’t effective.

Rarely, infant constipation is caused by an underlying condition, such as Hirschsprung’s disease, hypothyroidism or cystic fibrosis. If infant constipation persists despite dietary changes or is accompanied by other signs or symptoms – such as vomiting or irritability — contact your baby’s doctor.


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