What is it?
‘Constipation’ is infrequent or irregular bowel movements often accompanied by straining and pain
Some infants may normally pass stools several times a day, while others may normally pass stools only a few times a week
What are the symptoms?
As well as infrequent or irregular bowel movements, a baby with constipation may also display the following signs and symptoms:
- Being irritable, angry, or unhappy
- Foul smelling wind and stools
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
What causes it?
Constipation in babies and children is quite common, although not usually in exclusively breastfed babies. For example, not feeding enough and not giving enough fluids can cause constipation in babies and children
Constipation in babies and young children can sometimes be a side-effect of medicines such as:
- Antiepileptics, medicines to treat epilepsy
- Sedating antihistamines, medicine to relieve the symptoms of allergies, such as itching and inflammation
- Opioids, a type of painkilling medicine
How is it treated?
Babies who have not yet been weaned
If a baby is constipated but has not yet started to eat solid foods, the first way to treat them is to give them extra water between their normal feeds. Formula-fed babies should continue with their normal feeds, and feeds should not be diluted (follow the manufacturers instructions)
Gently moving your baby's legs in a bicycling motion, or carefully massaging their abdomen (tummy) can also help to stimulate their bowels
Babies who are eating solids
Make sure they get plenty of water, or diluted fruit juice. Try to encourage them to eat fruit and vegetables which can be pureed, or chopped, depending on their ability to chew. The best fruits for babies to eat to treat constipation are:
If baby is still constipated after a change in diet, seek advice from your GP
- Osmotic laxatives. For example, lactulose and polyethylene glycol (brand name Movicol). These work by retaining fluid in the large bowel by osmosis (so less fluid is absorbed into the bloodstream from the large bowel)
- Stimulant laxatives. For example, senna or docusate. These act on the muscle in the wall of the bowel to 'squeeze' harder than usual