Definition: Constipation is a decrease in the frequency of bowel movements; characterized by the passing of hardened stools which may be large and associated with straining and pain.

Breastfed babies are rarely constipated as breast milk is almost 100% completely digested and utilized by baby’s growing body. Breast milk leaves little “leftovers” to cause constipation. Many breastfed babies do have infrequent bowel movements however this does not mean that they are constipated.

Formula fed babies may have constipation more often than breastfed babies. Unlike breast milk, formula is not as easily digested nor is it as completely absorbed and used by a baby’s body.

Infant constipation isn’t common. However, your baby might have infant constipation if he or she has hard or pellet-like bowel movements or bowel movements that appear difficult to pass, causing your baby to arch his or her back or cry. Or infrequent or less frequent bowel movement. 

If your newborn seems constipated, contact your Health Visitor or GP for advice. Keep in mind that the normal amount of bowel movements an infant passes varies depending on his or her age and what he or she is eating. Infants also have weak abdominal muscles and often strain during bowel movements. Infant constipation is unlikely if your baby passes a soft bowel movement after a few minutes of straining. Infant constipation often begins when a baby starts eating solid foods.

Faecal impaction may be possible if there is:

  • A history of severe symptoms of constipation.
  • Overflow soiling.
  • A faecal mass palpable on abdominal examination. 

You can help relieve constipation in infants with:

  • A warm bath
  • Bicycle legs: place your baby on her back and lightly hold her legs in a half-bent position. Gently begin to move your baby’s legs as if she is riding a bicycle.
  • Tummy massage: Gently massage and rub baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction. Place your hands at baby’s navel and massage in a circular motion, moving your hand(s) out and away from the centre of baby’s belly.

The organisations below can provide more information and support for parents and carers of babies with constipation: