Home remedies — such as diet changes, exercise movements, and massage — may help relieve constipation in babies and young children. If these do not help, a caregiver may need to seek medical advice.
Doctors do not usually consider infrequent bowel habits a matter of concern in breastfeeding babies, as their bowel habits are different. Babies over 6 weeks of age, especially, may go more than a week without passing stool.
However, constipation may affect infants who are changing to solid foods and those who are having formula feeds.
Home remedies can often help relieve constipation. But, if there are other symptoms — such as a distended abdomen or vomiting — the child may need to see a doctor.
Home remedies for constipation in a baby include:
As with adults, exercise and movement tend to stimulate a baby’s bowels.
However, as babies may not be walking or crawling, a parent or caregiver may want to help them exercise to relieve constipation.
The parent or caregiver can gently move the baby’s legs while they are lying on their back to mimic the motion of riding a bicycle. Doing this may help the bowels function and relieve constipation.
2. A warm bath
Giving a baby a warm bath can relax their abdominal muscles and help them stop straining. It can also relieve some of the discomfort relating to constipation.
Young infants do not typically need supplemental liquids as they get their hydration from breast milk or formula.
However, babies over 6 months who are eating solid foods may benefit from drinking extra water between feeds.
3. Fruit juice
Infants who have not yet started on solid foods may benefit from taking 1–2 ounces of fruit juice, such as 100% prune, pear, or apple juice.
The sugar in the juice is hard to digest. As a result, more liquid enters the intestines, which helps increase the frequency and water content of stools. The additional water softens and breaks up the stool.
However, a parent or caregiver should speak with a pediatrician before giving a baby juice for the first time.
5. Other dietary changes
Certain dietary changes may help relieve constipation, but these will vary depending on the baby’s age and diet.
Babies who take formula may benefit from trying a different formula. It is best to speak with a qualified health professional before doing this.
If an infant is eating solid foods, they may benefit from foods that are good sources of fiber, such as:
- pureed broccoli or carrot
- whole grains, such as oatmeal, wheat, or barley cereal
- pureed peaches, pears, or prunes
A gentle massage may help relieve constipation.
Here are some tips:
- Use the fingertip to make circular motions on the stomach in a clockwise pattern.
- Walk the fingers around the naval in a clockwise pattern.
- Hold the baby’s knees and feet together and gently pushing the feet toward the belly.
- Stroke from the rib cage down past the belly button with the edge of a finger.
7. Taking a rectal temperature
When a baby is constipated, a doctor may recommend taking their rectal temperature with a clean, lubricated thermometer to help them pass stool.
It is important not to use this method very often, as it can make constipation worse.
The baby may start not wanting to pass a bowel movement without help, or they may begin to associate having a bowel movement with discomfort, leading them to fuss or cry more during the process.
A healthcare professional can advise on how to do this safely.
As infants may go for extended periods without a bowel movement, it can be hard to tell if they are constipated. Signs that indicate constipation in a baby include:
- continuing not to have a bowel movement, despite trying home remedies for several days
- changes in consistency from soft to hard stool
- straining while trying to have a bowel movement
- blood in the stool
- lack of appetite
- a hard or distended belly
- signs of abdominal pain
Signs of constipation in babies vary depending on their age and diet. A bowel movement before a baby begins eating solid food should be very soft, like the consistency of peanut butter, or possibly looser.
It is best to call a pediatrician if a baby continues not to pass stool or if other signs are present, such as:
- blood in the stool
- signs of abdominal pain or severe distention
Treatment typically starts with home remedies. If home remedies do not work, a doctor may examine the baby and, in rare cases, prescribe medications, such as:
People should never give these medications to a baby unless a doctor prescribes them.