IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How to help when your newborn baby is constipated

Pediatricians share what parents should know about this common condition in newborn babies.
Jenny Elia Pfeiffer / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

One of the hurdles any new parent might face is baby constipation, but what should you do if you suspect your newborn is constipated?

Dr. Jane Sneed, a pediatrician at The Children’s Clinic in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who has been practicing since 1993, told TODAY Parents that constipation is extremely common in babies.

“I would estimate 50 to 75 percent of infants have issues during their first year of life with some form of constipation arising from dietary issues following a stomach bug with diarrhea or from stress, like going out of town and having a significant schedule change,” Sneed said. She added that some experts expand the diagnosis to include infrequent stooling — only two to three per week — or excessive straining for more than ten minutes. “Regardless of the definition, the result is the same — an unhappy baby.”

How can you tell if a newborn is constipated?

Sneed shared that parents experiencing newborn constipation may see different signs.

“Parents may encounter Infant Dyschezia where their babies scream excessively and strain for ten minutes, only to produce loose stools,” she said. “These infants have not figured out how to simultaneously relax their pelvic floor and push stool out at the same time.”

Another recognizable instance of constipation is when foods are introduced into the diet. To avoid constipation problems, Sneed recommends giving babies foods higher in fiber.

“This age group should receive a recommended five grams of fiber daily,” she said. “The best fiber-rich foods are peas and prunes, which have two grams of fiber per serving, and whole wheat, barley or mixed grain baby cereals, which have one to two grams of fiber per serving. The worst options are rice cereal and bananas.”

Baby constipation home remedies

While all medical remedies should first be vetted by the baby’s primary care physician, Sneed shared that there are home remedies for baby constipation.

“At less than one month of age, we normally start with one to two teaspoons of dark Karo syrup mixed with formula daily, as well as a good probiotic.” Sneed said. “After a month of age, I would try one ounce of 100-percent pear, apple, or prune juice a day, increasing it by one ounce per month to a maximum of four ounces per day by four months of age.”

Dr. James Hahn, a pediatrician with St. Elizabeth Physicians in Greendale, Indiana, added that simple interventions like warm baths, bicycle kicking a baby’s legs, and belly massages can also be useful.

As a last resort, parents may use a glycerin suppository to help their babies if immediate relief is needed, but Sneed cautions use of suppositories without consulting a doctor.

Are there laxatives for babies?

For infants, Sneed shared that physicians talk about stool softeners more than laxatives.

“Stool softeners draw extra fluid into the stool to help babies pass them more easily,” she said. “In infants we prefer to use stool softeners, and we always start with natural options first.”

Dangers of infant constipation

Parents should always remember warning signs related to constipation for which they should seek immediate medical treatment for their infant, including: abdominal distension and/or tenderness, rectal bleeding, and vomiting bile or blood.

“If constipation issues are severe or start early in the neonatal period it could be a sign of a more serious problem, like Hirschsprung disease, anatomic anomalies, hypothyroidism, and cystic fibrosis,” Hahn said. “Your pediatrician is your best resource to help decide if your baby needs any tests or imaging studies to evaluate the constipation.”