Constipation is typically described as infrequent bowel movements that tend to be painful and hard. It is important to keep in mind, however, that infants that are breastfed typically only have a bowel movement only once a week or two, and this is normal for them. If a newborn is experiencing constipation, it is important to contact the child’s doctor to determine the cause. Once the cause is determined, treatment for newborn constipation can begin.
Water and Fruit Juice
In addition to normal feedings, give the infant a daily serving of water. It is recommended to start with two to four ounces, but make sure to ask the child’s doctor first. Depending on how the newborn responds to the water, more or less water may be necessary.
If water is not effective, a daily serving of pear, prune, or apple juice may be beneficial. The juice should be given in addition to normal feedings. Two to four ounces is the typical amount to experiment with. The newborn may need more or less juice depending on how he or she responds. Consult with the newborn’s doctor to determine the best juice and best starting amount to use.
Water-based lubricant may be beneficial when a small amount is taken and applied to the newborn’s anus. This may help hard stools pass easier. Do not use stimulant laxatives, mineral oil, or enemas as a treatment for newborn constipation.
Medications should not be given to a newborn without a doctor’s recommendation. A stool softener may be recommended for newborns. These can often be safely used long-term and are often effective. Laxatives should be used sparingly. If a laxative is necessary, osmotic-type laxatives are typically safer when needed to be used long-term. Medications commonly used include:
- Mineral oil: This is a lubricant and it may be mixed with orange juice. This may cause leakage
- Malt soup extract: This can be mixed with formula because it has an unpleasant odor
- Bisacodyl: This is a stimulant laxative
- Milk of magnesia: This is an osmotic laxative that contains magnesium hydroxide. Not all children tolerate the chalky taste
- Docusate: This is a lubricating laxative
- Senokot: This is a stimulant laxative
- Polyethyline glycol: This is a powder that can be mixed with water that is odorless and tasteless
- Lactulose: This is an osmotic laxative
It is important to talk to the newborn’s doctor about the correct dose to use and only use the dose the doctor prescribes.
Some newborns need to take a medication for as long as four to six months. Once the newborn begins having regular bowel movements, it is important to have the doctor gradually decrease the dose. Abruptly stopping any medication may result in the newborn’s constipation returning.
Hoecker, J.L. MD. (2009). Infant Constipation: How is it Treated? Retrieved on January 28, 2011 from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infant-constipation/AN01089
KeepKidsHealthy.com. (2001). Constipation. Retrieved on January 28, 2011 from KeepKidsHealthy.com: https://www.keepkidshealthy.com/newborn/newbornproblems/constipation.html