January 29, 2010

Causes & Treatment For Hard Stools (Constipation) in Infants

Posted in Category : Child Health

Infrequent or painful bowel movements are known as constipation. It is a problem faced by many infants and is one of the commonest complaints faced by doctors and pediatricians alike. Under normal circumstances, the frequency of babies’ bowel movements can vary from 6 times a day to once in six days. Straining during these periods is also normal as their diet only comprises of milk and passing stools is not easy when lying on one’s back.

A variation in stool color too is normal. Healthy stools can vary between yellow, green and brown and the only signs of abnormality are reddish, blackish or whitish stools. The consistency of stools is soft and mushy. If your baby is passing hard stools then it is definitely a sign of constipation.

The causes of constipation in infants vary. One common phenomenon which sends many concerned parents running to their pediatricians is infant dyschezia. While infant dyschezia is not constipation, it produces symptoms of crying and straining that are similar to symptoms of constipation. What happens is that the infant is having difficulty in coordinating the muscle contractions that are necessary to produce a bowel movement. This is the meaning of the term dyschezia. The baby will scream and strain for long periods before managing a bowel movement. The stools will be of a normal color and consistency and a physical examination will show no abnormalities. Infant dyschezia does not require any treatment and will eventually pass.

Functional constipation is characterized by the passage of hard, round stools or less than two bowel movements per week for at least two weeks in a row. It is commonly caused during the transition from breast to formula milk but may be of serious concern if your baby exhibits symptoms of inadequate weight gain, fever, abdominal distention or vomiting.

Once you are assured that your baby is not suffering from anything more serious than constipation, you can try certain home remedies. There are many home remedies that can be used for treating hard stools in babies.

Amongst the most effective home remedy for infant constipation is prune juice. Soak some prunes overnight in boiling water. Blend it the next morning and feed it to your baby using a spoon. If the taste of prune juice is not to your baby’s liking, try making pear juice instead. These fruits help to increase the water content in stools and make the passage of bowel movements that much easier.

Certain non-stimulant stool softeners such as polyethylene glycol and mineral oil can be added to your baby’s feed, but these remedies should only be resorted to after consulting your doctor. These will make it easier and less painful for your baby to have a bowel movement. Other stool softeners include milk of magnesia, lactulose and sorbitol.

There are certain other measures that you can take to promote healthy bowel movements in your child. These include giving your baby a tummy rub using a gentle but firm circular rubbing motion on his or her abdominal area. Another measure involves putting your baby on his or her back, lifting the legs with your hands and making a bicycling movement.

If your baby is on formula feeds, consider changing brands. If your baby is taking solid foods then you can consider introducing more fiber into your baby’s diet in the form of pureed fruits and vegetables. Make sure that your baby is getting adequate amounts of fluids in a day as it will help to keep stools soft.

These home remedies should only be resorted to after getting your doctor’s approval. Your doctor will suggest stronger alternatives should any of these measures fail to have the desired effect.


  1. http://www.medschool.lsuhsc.edu/pediatrics/docs/Overview.pdf