There are several causes of constipation in babies. These may include dehydration, changes in diet, medications, and various health issues.
Constipation affects approximately
Signs of constipation
This article outlines possible causes of constipation in babies alongside prevention tips and treatment.
It is common for a baby to have constipation when they first begin to take infant formula. This is because formula milk is often more difficult to digest than breast milk.
Babies may also experience constipation when they first start eating solid foods. This type of food may cause constipation as their body learns how to cope with digesting new things.
This may take a few days to resolve. If the symptoms of constipation do not improve, the parent or caregiver may wish to contact a doctor.
If a baby has dehydration, it
Dehydration occurs when water losses from the body
Possible causes of dehydration in infants include:
- increased fluid loss, such as from:
- gastrointestinal issues and symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea
- renal issues, such as diabetic ketoacidosis
- within the skin, including excessive sweating and burns
- decreased fluid intake — for example, illnesses such as a cold or pharyngitis may cause the baby to take in less fluid
Some medications and dietary supplements may also cause constipation in infants. These
- anticholinergics and antispasmodics
- iron supplements
- narcotic pain relief
Several health issues may also cause an infant to develop constipation. These
- celiac disease
- spina bifida
- spinal cord or brain injuries
- issues that can block or narrow the colon or rectum, including tumors
- Hirschsprung’s disease
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the
If a stool remains in the colon for too long, the colon will absorb too much fluid from the stool. This can cause the stool to become hard and dry and make it difficult to pass.
A child may attempt to delay or avoid a bowel movement for several reasons, including:
- feeling stressed about potty training
- being embarrassed to use a public bathroom
- not wanting to interrupt playtime
- being scared of having a painful or an unpleasant bowel movement
As infants grow older, they may begin to hold onto a stool for too long.
A doctor will often use the
- the child’s medical history
- the child’s family history
- a physical exam
- medical tests
Questions a doctor may ask
The doctor may ask the following questions to the child’s caregiver:
- How often does the child have a bowel movement?
- How long has the child had these symptoms?
- What do the child’s stools look like?
- Do the child’s stools have red streaks in them?
- Are there streaks of blood on the wipes or diapers?
- What is the child’s daily routine, including:
- physical activity
- day care
- What medications does the child take?
- What are the child’s eating habits?
What happens during the physical exam
During the physical exam, the doctor may:
- check the following:
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- check for signs of dehydration
- use a stethoscope to listen to sounds in the abdomen
- check the abdomen for
- tenderness or pain
- masses, or lumps
- perform a rectal exam
The doctor may use the following tests to help diagnose the cause of constipation:
- Blood tests: These can help the doctor look for signs of:
- celiac disease
- Stool tests: These tests can help the doctor look for signs of blood in the stool as well as signs of infection and inflammation.
- Urine tests: Checking urine can help show signs of a bladder infection, which may result from constipation.
- Imaging tests: In some cases, a doctor may use imaging tests to look for issues that may be causing constipation. These tests include:
A person can often help treat an infant’s constipation at home by
If the infant is eating solid foods, it is also important to ensure they are eating enough high fiber foods.
A parent or caregiver may also wish to try the following steps to help get things moving:
- lying the baby down and gently moving their legs as if riding a bicycle
- giving them gentle tummy massage
If the infant has constipation associated with a certain medication, a doctor may recommend stopping the treatment. They may also change the dose or switch the medication to a different one. A parent or caregiver should always talk with a doctor before stopping any medications.
In some cases, a doctor may also suggest an over-the-counter laxative, enema, or glycerin suppository to help treat constipation.
If a child is slightly older and has constipation due to holding onto a stool for too long, the parent or caregiver may wish to help change their routine to help treat constipation.
This may include:
- asking a potty-trained child to use the toilet after meals to build a routine
- using a reward system when the child uses the bathroom regularly
- taking a break from potty training until the constipation symptoms resolve
A parent or caregiver can
- the infant drinks enough fluids
- they are eating enough fiber if they are consuming solid food
- that having a bowel movement becomes part of their routine
Constipation is very common in babies. There are several causes, including dehydration, changes in diet, some medications, various health issues, and behavioral reasons.
Parents and caregivers can treat constipation in several ways. These include ensuring the baby drinks enough fluids and adding high fiber foods to their diet if they eat solid foods. A doctor may also prescribe laxatives or enemas to treat constipation.