Constipation in Infants: What it Means and How to Treat

Many parents worry that their baby is constipated, which can happen for many reasons. Sometimes, however, babies are not really constipated, but just have their own way of pooping.

Answering the following questions will help you understand more about constipation in infants, its causes and some ways to prevent and treat it.

For questions about constipation in children, please visit our Constipation in Children Guide.

Let’s Begin

Constipation sometimes can be a sign of a more serious problem.

Along with having infrequent stools, does your baby have any of these symptoms?

  • extremely fussy
  • seems to be in pain (a baby may show this by pulling up its legs or arching its back)
  • vomiting, especially any green vomit
  • blood in the stool
  • a belly that seems much larger than usual.

Yes, my baby has one or more of these symptoms.

No, my baby does not have any of these symptoms.

Did your baby take longer than 24 hours after birth to pass the first stool (meconium)?

Yes, my baby had difficulty passing the first stool.

No, my baby did not have trouble passing the first stool.

Does your baby seem to strain (have a hard time) when pushing out stools?

Yes, my baby seems to strain when pushing out stools.

No, my baby does not seem to strain when pushing out stools.

Does your baby have soft stools but not every day?

Yes, that describes my baby.

No, my baby has hard stools.

Even though your baby is not straining to pass them, hard stools may cause problems if they continue.

We will now ask some questions about things that may cause your baby’s stool to be hard.

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Some babies have soft stools but not very often. This is normal. Call your doctor if you are concerned.

Are the stools hard or soft?

The stools are soft.

The stools are hard.

Your baby may be straining because the stools are hard.

We will now ask some questions about things that may cause your baby’s stool to be hard.

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Sometimes formula can be constipating for babies.

Constipation is not caused by the iron that is in formula. You should never switch to a low-iron formula unless your doctor specifically tells you to do so. Iron is important for your baby’s growth and development.

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Switching from breastmilk to formula causes some babies to become constipated. Call to discuss this with your doctor. Usually the stools will become soft after a few days on the formula, as your baby gets used to this new food. If it doesn’t, your doctor can suggest some ways to help relieve the constipation.

Constipation is not caused by the iron that is in formula. You should never switch to a low-iron formula unless your doctor specifically tells you to do so. Iron is important for your baby’s growth and development.

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Rice cereal can be constipating for some babies. Other cereals, such as oatmeal or barley, do not seem to cause constipation.

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Rice cereal can be constipating for some babies. Try switching to another single-grain cereal, such as oatmeal or barley. (Wheat cereal is generally not recommended in the first few months since wheat is a common cause of allergies in children.)

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Bananas can be constipating. Give your baby a variety of fruits and vegetables. Prunes can be especially helpful for constipation.

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Bananas can be constipating. Try giving your baby other kinds of fruits and vegetables. Prunes can be especially helpful for constipation.

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Have you recently switched from strained baby foods to table foods?

Yes, my baby recently started table foods.

No, my baby did not just start table foods.

Be sure your baby is getting enough fluids and fiber, found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

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Switching from strained baby foods to solid table foods can cause constipation. Be sure your baby is getting enough fluids and fiber, found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

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That’s great. Cow’s milk can be constipating and is not recommended before an infant’s first birthday because it causes iron deficiency (low iron) in some children.

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Cow’s milk can be constipating for children. Starting cow’s milk before one year of age increases the risk of iron-deficiency (low iron). It is recommended that you give your baby breastmilk or formula until after his or her first birthday.

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You have answered all the questions about things that can cause constipation in infants and have heard about ways to treat and prevent constipation. We hope this information has been helpful to you.

Call your doctor if your baby’s constipation does not improve after changing the diet as discussed above, or if your baby gets worse in any way.

You should also call the doctor if you’d already made the changes in your baby’s diet before doing this decision guide, or if you have any other questions about your baby’s bowel habits.

Babies often seem to strain when pushing out stools. Their abdominal muscles are not well-developed. They also are lying down, instead of sitting up like us, or standing (like toddlers). This is normal. Call your doctor if you have any concerns.

Call your doctor. In rare cases, constipation is a sign of an intestinal problem called Hirschsprung’s disease, in which the colon doesn’t have the nerves it needs to push out the stool, or another serious problem.

Call your doctor now. Your baby could have a serious blockage in his intestines.

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