Constipation in newborns and babies: symptoms, causes and relief
What is baby constipation?
If your little one is pooing less than three times a week, and has poos that are either large, hard and difficult to push out, or small, hard and pellet-like, they may be constipated1. Around 15% of babies experience constipation by their first birthday2, although babies that are exclusively breast-fed are less likely to experience constipation.
Look out for two or three of these symptoms1:
- Poos that are small, hard and pellet- like or large, hard and difficult to push out.
- Less than three poos a week.
- Foul-smelling wind and poo.
- Excessive gas.
- Straining and crying when pooing (you’ll come to know your baby’s ‘pooing face’ and this will change if they become constipated).
- A tummy that is firm to the touch (your baby’s tummy should be soft and squishy).
- A poor appetite (if your baby is constipated, they won’t have any room for more food).
- Your baby is irritable and tearful.
- You baby seems low on energy.
Still unsure? Head over to our Baby Symptom Checker. If you have any concerns about your baby’s symptoms, speak to your health visitor.
In the early days, breastfed babies may poo frequently as breast milk is easy to digest. Once your baby is between 3 and 6 weeks old, they may only do one large, soft poo a week. This is completely normal.
Formula-fed babies tend to poo more often than breastfed babies3 – at least once a day or every other day. Some formula-fed babies may go longer between poos without being constipated.
Your baby’s poo should be soft, almost like the consistency of peanut butter or even looser. Hard baby poo prior to starting solid food is the most obvious sign that your baby may be constipated.
Once you introduce solid foods to their diet, your baby may be more likely to experience constipation.
How much your baby drinks
If your baby isn’t drinking enough, dehydration can lead to constipation.
A change to their diet
If they’ve recently moved from breast to formula milk, or if they’ve started solids.
Their developing digestive system
Getting used to new foods can take time.
How to relieve constipation
It can be very stressful watching your little one struggle to poo. Here’s a few things you can do to help your baby5.
- Make sure they have plenty to drink
If you’re breastfeeding, offer plenty of feeds. If you’re formula-feeding, check you’re using the right amount of powder. Formula-fed babies can also have drinks of cooled, boiled water between feeds.
- Try baby massage
try rubbing their tummy in a clockwise direction using smooth, circular motions. Or lay your baby on their back and gently move their legs in a cycling motion.
- Run a nice warm bath
not only is this very relaxing for an unsettled baby, the warmth can be very effective at soothing an achy tummy. Make sure it’s not too hot, or it could have the opposite effect. Below 38oC is ideal.
- Offer some fruit
if your baby is over six months old, fruits like apples, pears or prunes can help get things on the move.
When to see your doctor
While constipation is usually nothing to worry about, it’s good to get your baby back to their bouncing, happy selves as soon as you can. If you have any concerns, talk to your Health Visitor or GP, especially if your baby6:
Is not improving
Is regularly constipated or bloated
Has blood in their poo
Has suddenly lost weight
Is tired and lethargic
If in doubt, take a look at our Baby Symptom Checker.
Take care of you: Happy parent, happy baby
It can be stressful seeing your baby in distress when they’re constipated. Remember that constipation is common in babies and there’s plenty you can do to help ease their discomfort. If you have any concerns about your baby's pooing habits, don’t hesitate to contact your Health Visitor or GP to put your mind at ease.
You can also contact our dedicated Careline team for one-to-one support whenever you need it.
- https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/breastfeeding/ breastfeeding-challenges/constipation/
- Vandenplas Y et al. J Pediartr Gastroenterol Nutr 2015;61(5) 531-7
- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and- baby/nappies/
- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and- baby/constipation-and-soiling/
- https://www.nhs.uk/ start4life/baby/breastfeeding/breastfeeding- challenges/constipation/