Constipation in Babies: When It’s Time to Call the Doctor

When a child is too young to tell us he isn’t feeling well, he communicates it in other ways that a parent or caretaker needs to be able to recognize and interpret: crying, seeming listless, and just generally not seeming like himself. One pretty dependable indicator of good health in a baby is what goes on in the diaper. If everything’s happening as it should down there, you can pretty much rule out a number of illnesses that typically strike a baby.

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If you suspect your newborn is constipated, seek a doctor’s advice right away.

So, what happens if you’re not getting that reassurance of health due to constipation? What’s normal when it comes to constipation in babies, and what deserves a call to the doctor?

Constipation in a baby is not just the lack of a bowel movement, but also when movements are hard and dry. Both these things are normal occurrences and can be caused by the transition from breast milk to formula or from formula to solid foods.

For newborns, you should call the doctor for advice right away if you suspect constipation. For a baby of any age, call the doctor right away if the constipation is accompanied by irritability or vomiting.

For older babies who are constipated without any other symptoms, there are a number of things you can try before calling the doctor:

Dietary changes: Try giving your baby two to four ounces of water in addition to his regular feedings. Monitor how he reacts and give less or more as needed. If water doesn’t help, try the same method with apple, prune, or pear juice. If your baby is already eating solid foods, try pureed prunes or pears or barley cereal instead of rice cereal.

Water-based lubricant: Applying a water-based lubricant to the baby’s anus could ease the passage of hard stools.

Infant glycerin suppository: If it’s been a few days and none of the above methods has helped, an infant glycerin suppository can be purchased over-the-counter and can be effective for occasional use.

If none of the methods above helps after a few days, it’s time to consult a pediatrician who can rule out a more serious condition and get your baby back to a more normal schedule.