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Constipation in babies (0 to 6 months)

Constipation in babies and children

This page provides information about constipation in babies from 0 to around 6 months. For information for older babies on solid food and children, see constipation in children.

Constipation is when it is difficult for your baby to poo or when they are not pooing as often as normal.

Some babies have several poos each day. Others poo only once a day or once every second day. What is important is that the poos are soft and that they are easy to pass.

How to tell if your baby is constipated

Your baby may be constipated if their poo looks like firm dry pellets that do not soak into the nappy.

Your baby is not constipated if the poo is soft, even if they have not had a dirty nappy for 1 or 2 days.

Straining

Straining when passing poo can be normal. Straining with crying is often a sign of constipation. When a baby is straining, their face will often become red and they may grunt or make other noises.

Breastfed babies and constipation

Breastfed babies rarely get constipated because breast milk contains a natural laxative. They tend to have yellow-coloured seedy poos that are often quite soft.

Newborn breastfed babies may poo after every feed. Older breastfed babies may go up to a week without pooing. This is not constipation if the poo is soft.

Related topic

Find out more about poo and breastfed newborn babies

Formula feeding and constipation

Formula-fed babies tend to have bulkier poos and need to poo more often than breastfed babies.

If you are formula feeding, make sure you use the correct number of scoops of formula to water.

Don’t

do not swap scoops between different types of formula - they may not be the same size

do not dilute formula milk - always follow the instructions on the packaging

do not add solid foods such as rusks or baby rice to a baby's bottle - these can be a choking hazard and make your baby more likely to become constipated

Read more about preparing baby formula

Treating your baby's constipation

Give your baby a warm bath to relax their bowel.

Gently massage your baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction. Make firm but gentle circular motions from the belly button outwards.

Lie your baby on their back and gently move their legs backwards and forwards in a 'bicycle' motion.

Never give your baby laxatives unless a doctor or public health nurse advises you to.

Make sure your baby is getting their daily fluid needs. Babies from 0 to 6 months should take in 700 ml of fluids per day, from breast milk or formula milk.

When to see a GP

Talk to your GP if your baby:

  • does not poo in 2 to 3 days
  • is very distressed
  • shows the signs their constipation may be due to other medical conditions

Contact your GP urgently if your baby:

  • is in severe pain and distress when doing a poo
  • has bleeding after a hard poo
  • has a fever
  • is vomiting
  • has bloody diarrhoea
  • has a bloated tummy
  • is not gaining weight or is losing weight

Constipation due to another medical condition

In rare cases, your baby may be constipated due to an underlying illness.

These include:

  • some neurological conditions (problems with your baby's nervous system)
  • problems affecting your baby's thyroid gland
  • cystic fibrosis (usually detected by your baby's heel prick test shortly after birth)
  • very rare diseases of the bowel

Signs your baby may have a medical condition

Signs include:

  • your baby does not pass their first poo in the first 2 days of life
  • weight loss or if your baby is not gaining weight well
  • vomiting a lot
  • a very swollen tummy
  • seeming to be in severe pain
  • any abnormalities of their bottom (anus) - for example, if it is closed over
  • poos that are very pale in colour

Bring your baby to your GP urgently if they have any of these signs. If your baby seems very unwell or you are unable to get an urgent appointment, bring them to the nearest hospital emergency department.

Causes of constipation

Constipation in babies has many possible causes. But often, there's no obvious reason or cause.

Doctors call this 'idiopathic constipation' when the cause is unknown. Idiopathic constipation can happen for short periods or longer periods.

Short periods of constipation

It is common for babies and small children to have short bouts of constipation that settle after 1 or 2 days. You do not usually need to get medical help. There are things you can do to help relieve your baby's constipation.

Longer periods of constipation

This is where your baby is constipated for more than 1 to 2 days. Or where your baby has constipation that comes back often.

page last reviewed: 29/04/2021
next review due: 29/04/2024