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Constipation in babies

Here we answer questions about constipation in babies with information on baby constipation remedies and relief, how to help a newborn and what not to give them.

Q. My baby is five days old and he hasn't had a poo since day one. I’ve been told that breastfed babies often go several days without pooing, so should I worry?

It’s very unusual for babies as young as this, whether breast or bottle fed, to go without a poo – in fact, a more usual pattern is for babies to have at least two to three substantial-sized poos every day in the first week. Sometimes, a lack of poo in a young baby means he needs to feed more, so you need to check this with your midwife. If your baby’s gaining weight, if he’s feeding well, and you have no health concerns, then the lack of poo is not a concern. You can get more information about what - and how much poo - to expect in the first week here. If your baby is not pooing regularly, that doesn't necessarily mean that your newborn child is constipated.

Q. When is it normal for breastfed babies to stop pooing as often?

Any age from about three weeks and over, but more commonly from six weeks, breastfed babies may start to space out their poos – even as much as a week or more apart. This can seem alarming, but in a healthy baby, it’s usually nothing to worry about and doesn't usually suggest that your infant is constipated. The poo, when it comes, will be soft and easy to pass because of the way the gastro-colic reflex has changed. This is the reflex that is stimulated by food going into the top of the digestive tract causing a reflex action at the other end – and it’s very sensitive in a newborn. So it’s quite normal for a new baby to poo virtually every time he feeds.

As he gets a bit older, the reflex is nothing like as sensitive, and he can hang on to his poo, storing it in the lower bowel for some time. This is why you sometimes get a very large amount of poo when your baby does finally go!

Q. What about formula fed babies?

Formula fed babies, or babies who have some formula alongside breastfeeding, are likely to be the same as breastfed babies for the first week or so. Then after the initial newborn period, they usually become more regular. Their stools are more ‘formed’ than a breastfed babies, but it should still be easy to pass. 

Q. How do I know if my baby is constipated?

If your baby is very uncomfortable or clearly in real pain, and his poos are small and hard, then he has some degree of constipation. This is very rare in babies who are solely breastfed, but not uncommon in babies who have formula, or who have solid foods. Ask your health visitor or the chemist for advice on treatment. Make sure you are making up the formula powder with the correct amount of water. Some formulas are specially targeted at babies who have minor constipation – your health visitor can discuss your options. Persistent constipation needs to be checked out by the doctor. 

Q. My baby seems to struggle and wriggle when he needs to have a poo, but when it comes; it appears soft and comes out easily. 

Some babies seem to react to the sensations in their lower bowel in the way you describe. They may even go red in the face and appear to be ‘straining’. They may be a bit unsettled. It’s not constipation, and your baby is probably not uncomfortable. If he was in pain he would show you by crying. Ask your health visitor about this, if you feel unsure about whether his reactions are normal.  

Q. I've heard that one of the best  baby constipation remedies is to give them diluted fruit juice, such as apple or pear juice or prune juice, or giving them fruit direct. 

If your baby is already on solid foods then the juice or the fruit itself should be fine for providing relief. Fruits, such as apples, pears and prunes, contain sorbitol which is a natural laxative, helping the lower bowel retain water, which in turn helps the poo stay soft and easy to pass. For younger babies, check with your health visitor before you start giving anything other than milk.  

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.