Constipation (Newborn)

Your newborn’s first stool is called meconium. It is usually passed within 24 to 36 hours after birth. Most breastfed infants pass 3 to 4 stools a day. Formula-fed infants pass about 2 stools a day. But some healthy infants may have only 1 bowel movement a week after the first few weeks of life.

A normal stool is soft and easy to pass. But sometimes stools become firm or hard. They are difficult to pass. They may pass less often (2 or fewer per week). This is called constipation. It is common in children. Symptoms of constipation can include:

  • Belly pain

  • Refusal to feed

  • Bloating

  • Vomiting

  • Streaks of blood in stools

  • Swelling, bleeding, and or pain around the anus

In newborns, constipation can be caused by a formula. It may also be caused by medicines or even an underlying disorder. Some newborns may have a meconium plug that blocks stool passage.

Simple constipation is easy to treat once the cause is known. If a meconium plug is in place, it may be removed gently by hand. In some cases a stimulant, such as a glycerin suppository, is given. Mild constipation usually goes away once a baby becomes old enough to eat solid foods.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for your child at home:

  • Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe a lubricant or suppository. Follow all instructions on how and when to use this product.

  • If your baby is on formula, follow the provider's advice about the type of formula to use. He or she may tell you to replace cow's milk with a nondairy milk or formula. This may be made from soy or rice. Watch to see if this stops the constipation. Add feedings of water between breast or formula feedings, if advised, but generally, it is not given to infants. Talk with your baby’s healthcare provider before making changes to your infant’s feeding schedule or formula.

  • At certain ages, your healthcare provider may recommend certain fruit juices. Small amounts may be added to the bottle if your provider recommends this.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider. Certain tests may be needed for a constipated newborn.

Special note to parents

Learn to be familiar with your baby’s normal bowel pattern. Note the color, form, and frequency of stools.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Firm belly that is very painful to the touch

  • Trouble breathing

  • Is unresponsive

When to seek medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fussiness or crying that can’t be soothed

  • Hard stools (rather than soft, pasty stools)

  • Blood in stool

  • Black tarry stool

  • Weight loss or inability to gain weight

  • Refusal to drink or feed

  • Constipation that doesn’t get better

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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