What you need to know

  • The most common reason for constipation in babies is not enough water. 
  • There are several things you can do at home to help your constipated child, including offering lots of fluids and watching how much fiber your child eats (if they're eating solids).
  • Constipation is rarely caused by a serious condition, but if your child hasn’t improved after a few days, or you’re worried, call PlunketLine or visit your doctor.  

Constipation in babies

Breastfed babies 

Constipation in breastfed babies is rare. Usually, breastfed babies' poos are soft, and hard poo may mean they aren't getting enough milk or have a medical problem. Check with your Plunket nurse or doctor.

  • Breastfed babies under four weeks old should poo every day
  • Breastfed babies over four weeks often won’t poo every day, some babies only go once every seven to 10 days.

Formula fed babies

Formula fed babies usually poo every day or second day. Poos may be formed but should not be hard and difficult to pass. 

Did you know: Babies often go red in the face, push and strain when they are doing poos – even when they're not constipated.

Causes

There may be several reasons why your baby is constipated, but the most common cause is not enough water. Here are some other possible causes:

  • weaning from breast milk to formula
  • changing formula  
  • formula wasn't prepared properly (too much powder to water)  
  • starting solids  
  • not enough water or fluids (especially on a hot day or when your baby has a fever) 
  • changing to cow's milk at one year old
  • in rare cases, there is a medical issue that needs a doctor’s assessment.

What you can do

  • For bottle-fed babies, check to make sure the formula is made correctly. 
  • Offer your baby extra water to drink, as well as their normal milk.  
  • For babies six months and older who eat solids, give them plenty of cooked/soft fruits or steamed vegetables. 
  • For babies nine months and older, give them cooked soft fruits and vegetables and baby breakfast cereals that contain bran.
  • Assess how much fiber foods your baby is eating, as diets very high in fiber can cause constipation. 
  • A tummy massage may help a constipated baby.
  • A warm bath can help your baby's muscles relax (your baby may poo in the bath, so be prepared). 

Do not give medicines unless they are prescribed by your doctor. 

When to visit a doctor

If your baby has not passed their first poo in 24 hours of life, talk to your midwife or doctor urgently. Call PlunketLine or your doctor if your baby's constipation continues, or there is blood in their poos. 

Constipation in children

Symptoms

Your child may be constipated if they: 

  • have hard poos that are difficult to pass 
  • have liquid poo that may leak out in between harder poo  
  • show signs of holding poos in, crying or refusing to go to the toilet  
  • cry or tell you their tummy is sore around the belly button 
  • soil their pants.

Causes 

There may be several reasons why your child is constipated: 

  • not enough water 
  • not enough fiber, which includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains  
  • not enough exercise 
  • not eating and drinking as much as normal (this can happen when your child is sick) 
  • toilet training practices (refusing to spend time on the toilet) can cause constipation. 

Sometimes a hard poo can cause a tear around the anus and it will hurt your child to poo, so they will avoid pooing, which causes the constipation to become worse.

Your child may refuse to go to the toilet because they're afraidfind it uncomfortable to sit on the toilet, or feel pressured. 

What you can do 

  • Try not to give your child too much fiber, as it can cause tummy pain. 
  • If your child's diet is low in fiber, give them more fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, rice, dried fruits, breads and dried fruit.
  • Encourage your child to drink lots of fluids (water is the best, although fruit juice helps some kids. Try diluted apple, prune or pear juice - no more than one cup per day). 
  • Encourage your child to get enough exercise.
  • Encourage your child to recognize their need to poo, even if they are busy playing.
  • Encourage your child to let all their poo come out each time they go to the toilet. 

When to visit a doctor 

Constipation is rarely caused by a serious condition, but if your tamariki hasn’t improved after a few days, or you’re worried, call PlunketLine or visit your doctor.  

If the constipation lasts a long time or keeps coming back, talk to your doctor - they may prescribe a medicine to help soften the poos. 

Need free support or advice?

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922