Constipation in babies

What is it? What causes it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is constipation in babies?

Constipation is the term given to difficulty in passing stools and is more common in formula-fed babies than in breastfed infants.

What causes Constipation in babies?

Constipation can be down to baby's diet, dehydration or minor illness. 

Formula-fed babies are much more likely to suffer from constipation. Formula milk naturally produces from formed poos compared to breast milk, the later being more easily digested. 

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Constipation in a baby can also be caused by a milk protein allergy or intolerance. Milk-based formula can cause this, as well as dairy products in mum's diet which are then passed through the breast milk. An allergy or intolerance can of course also become an issue as baby moves onto solids, with common weaning dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese causing a problem.

What are the symptoms of Constipation in babies?

You'll know that your baby is constipated if she suddenly passes less poos than normal, perhaps even going more than three days without having a poo. Bear in mind though that bowel movements will also change when baby moves onto solid foods, reducing from around three or four times a day to perhaps one per day. 

With constipation, you will notice a change in consistency, changing from liquid-like or soft poos to solid clay-like or pellety poos. 

Your baby will likely be showing signs of strain when when trying to pass a stool and her tummy may also feel hard. 

Eventually, if her constipation is left untreated, she may also start to refuse further feeds or food, purely down to tummy discomfort.

What are the treatments and remedies of Constipation in babies?

Home treatment is the first course of action to take. If your unweaned baby is formula-fed and constipated, offer her drinks of cooled, boiled water, and encourage her to drink often. You could also try cycling her legs while she's lying on her back and gently massaging her tummy.

If your baby has already moved on to solid foods, offer her more fruit and veg purées and drinks of diluted fruit juice and water.

Don't be tempted to dilute formula milk: you must always follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter. You could discuss moving your baby onto a different formula brand with your GP or health visitor, but don't change unless you've been advised to. 

If home treatment doesn't help, your GP may prescribe a mild laxative for your baby. If your baby is breastfed, it is much less likely that they will become constipated, so just offer them the breast on demand. They will not need any other drinks unless your health professional advises you otherwise.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net

Constipation in babies