Signs of Newborn Constipation

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
upset infant

Newborn constipation can be a frustrating and uncomfortable condition for your baby. It often occurs due to a change in diet such as changing from breast milk to formula, or changing brands in formula. However, constipation in newborns is generally easy to treat.

Recognizing Constipation in Your Newborn

According to Dr. Sears, if your newborn is having fewer than one bowel movement a day and has any of the following signs, he may be constipated.

  • Stools that are firm and happen less than once a day in a newborn
  • Your baby seems to be in pain while having a bowel movement
  • Stools are pebble-like and hard, and your baby seems to strain while passing them
  • Blood on the outside of a hard stool
  • Abdominal discomfort accompanied by hard stools and infrequent bowel movements

If your baby is showing any of these signs, consult your pediatrician.

When to Worry About Constipation in Your Baby or Newborn

Your baby's stool will change quite a bit over the first few months of life. There is a wide range of what is considered normal, but if you are concerned that your baby is constipated, always talk to your pediatrician before offering treatment.

Meconium

The first bowel movements your infant will make are tarry and thick. These are called meconium stools and will only occur a few times before they turn more yellowish and soft. If your baby does not poop during his first 24 hours, consult with a doctor. This could be a sign of something more serious, such as Hirschsprung's Disease or hypothyroidism.

Constipation in Breast Fed Infants

Breast fed infants are rarely constipated because breast milk is digested very easily by most infants. A newborn who is breastfed should have yellowish-green stools that have a seedy texture. It has been described as looking like seeded mustard. The stools should be very soft and can sometimes even be watery. Your baby may have as many as ten bowel movements a day, or as few as one.

Breast fed infants should have at least one stool a day and may have as many as ten. It is not uncommon for a breastfed infant to have a stool after each feeding. According to the AAP, if your newborn is having fewer than one stool a day, or the stool is not soft, it may be a sign that he is not getting enough milk.

Constipation in Formula Fed Infants

Formula fed infants typically have soft stool that is like the consistency of peanut butter. Like breastfed infants, they should have at least one bowel movement a day for the first couple months, although they may have many more.

Treating Your Baby's Constipation

In most cases, there are a few things you can try at home to help relieve newborn constipation. If unsure of using a remedy, call your doctor or nurse. Never hesitate to take baby in for an appointment.

Use Gravity

You can try helping your baby by picking him up when he is grunting and looks like he is trying to make a movement. Picking him up can utilize gravity to help move the stool, and it can be comforting.

Offer Karo Syrup if Your Doctor Suggests You Should

Some pediatricians might prescribe Karo syrup. If your pediatrician tells you to give your baby some Karo syrup mixed with his formula, it's important to follow his directions accordingly.

Change Your Baby's Formula

In many instances, the type of formula you are using can cause constipation. If you are noticing a problem, change to a soy-based formula, or a different brand.

Make Sure Your Baby Is Getting Enough

If your baby is breastfed, make sure he is getting enough milk. If he seems extremely fussy, hungry all the time, and is not gaining weight, consult a lactation consultant or your pediatrician for help in changing your breastfeeding routine to ensure your baby gets enough milk.

Try a Bath or Baby Massage

Sometimes a bath can relax baby, making it easier for him to pass a hard stool. Don't be surprised if baby poops in the bath. A baby massage is another way to help him calm down and relax his muscles. This technique may help him in more ways than one.

Things to Avoid With a Constipated Baby

It used to be that common wisdom advised giving your baby water, juice, or even an enema to help solve constipation. Despite what your grandmother might say, none of these practices are safe or effective to treat newborn constipation. If you cannot help your baby pass stools at home using simple remedies, contact your pediatrician.

Signs of Newborn Constipation