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Health Tips / Baby Constipation

Diagnosis and Symptoms

The frequency of bowel motions of an infant can vary greatly between babies, and even for the same infant over time. This can range from four times per day to once every two days. However, it is generally regarded that young infants should have one bowel motion per day and that generally breast-fed infants have more bowel motions than bottle-fed babies. A constipated baby will have firmer and harder stools and the baby will not empty their bowels as regularly.

With more severe constipation, the infant may also be in pain or be anxious and in some cases subconsciously be holding back the stool in order to avoid pain. If this occurs, the stool will remain in the large intestine for a longer duration and will become even harder and more difficult to pass. If such a problem is left untreated, the child may even refuse to eat.

Constipation in infants can often be due to inability to fully digest the milk formula, or could be due to inadequate fluid or food intake. As breast milk is easier to digest by an infant, it is more unusual for breast fed babies to experience constipation.

In infants under three months, constipation is rare and if the problem occurs you should consult your doctor. For older babies who have started on solids, the frequency of bowel movements can depend on diet and on fluid intake. It is often at this time that babies become mildly constipated as their digestive systems adjust to the increased amounts of dietary solids. At this time, it should be ensured that babies have sufficient fluid and do not suffer dehydration.

Parents should also be aware that constipation could be a side effect of some medicines. More rarely constipation may be a symptom of another problem such as an anal fissure or a bowel blockage. If your child is regularly constipated, fails to thrive or if in pain, always consult your doctor.

Preventative Measures 

Always ensure that your baby has sufficient fluid intake. Make sure when preparing the infant formula to only use the quantities stated. If you feel that your baby needs extra fluids prepare bottles of freshly boiled and cooled water. When the baby is in transition from solids to fluids, a greater fluid intake is normally required. Make sure that your child's diet has sufficient fibre, by including fruit and vegetable purees.

Non-Prescription Treatments 

Increasing fluid intake and the reduction of certain constipating foods should help to increase the number of bowel motions. Extra bottles of freshly boiled and cooled water should be available for the infant. Sometimes changing the infant formula may reduce constipation.

The contents of the large intestine can be moved along by massaging the lower part of the baby's tummy or by moving the baby's legs in a "bicycle" motion.

VASELINE can be applied to the anus to prevent fissure or cracking. The use of laxatives in young infants and children is generally not encouraged by the medical profession unless absolutely necessary.

Glycerol (also known as glycerin) is a mild rectal stimulant available as a rectal application (BABYLAX). When used, glycerol should work immediately. When using the rectal tube make sure to place some VASELINE on the tube section before inserting it into the baby's rectum. Only insert the tip of the tube. Hold the baby's legs together for two to three minutes, if possible, to ensure maximum effect. The prolonged use of BABYLAX should be avoided as it may lead to irritation of the anal canal.

are available in infant, children and adult formulations. The suppository must be removed from its wrapping by grasping the two halves of the wrapping at the tip of the suppository and pulling them gently apart. It is recommended to moisten the tip of the suppository before inserting into the rectum. Prolonged use of glycerin suppositories is not recommended. If symptoms persist consult your doctor.

Further Information on the medicines listed above including dosage is available at

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Last update: 16/05/2013 12:38 • Previous update: 30/11/-0001 00:00