A red face, straining, and an extra firm belly are all signs of constipation in babies. Learn what else to look out for, so you can help baby get relief.

Signs of Constipation in Babies: Is Baby Backed Up?

As parents, we study diapers like scientists, examining the consistency and color of baby’s poop. But what if there’s nothing in the diaper? While an empty diaper may signal constipation, here are some other signs of constipation in babies you should know about.

How to Tell If Baby Is Constipated

Lactation consultants often advise new parents to count wet diapers to make sure baby is getting enough to drink. And there are some studies supporting the theory that the amount of soiled diapers baby has per day should match a baby’s age during the first week of life—on day four baby should have approximately four soiled diapers, for example.

But, like adults, baby’s bowel movements can vary a fair amount from person to person, so diaper output isn’t always a hard and fast rule.

6 Signs of Constipation in Babies

1. Change in Frequency

Use your baby’s normal bowel movement pattern as a baseline. If your baby hasn’t pooped in two days, but normally has a bowel movement after every feeding, he might be a little backed up. If you’re having a hard time keeping track, many breastfeeding trackers also give you a place to log bowel movements.

2. Hard Stools

Even if your baby has regular poopy diapers, hard, dry poop (think: rabbit poop) is one of the surest signs of constipation. Poop shouldn’t be so hard that it causes painful straining.

Hard stools don’t typically occur in breastfed babies, but formula-fed babies may benefit from switching formulas.

3. Straining

If you notice your baby grunting excessively and turning red in the face, she is probably straining to poop.

4. Firm belly

Does his tummy feel really full, hard, or bloated? This is one of the most common signs of constipation in babies, since constipation can cause a belly to feel extra firm.

5. Refusing to eat

Due to their bowel discomfort and distention, constipated babies often refuse food—even if it’s been hours since their last meal.

6. Blood in the stool

Just like with adults, straining too hard during a bowel movement can cause tiny fissures (tears) around the anus, which produce little streaks of blood on the outside of the stool. Although this can be a normal side effect of baby constipation, blood throughout can indicate a problem. If you see any blood in your baby’s poop, it’s always a good idea to visit the pediatrician to rule out other conditions.

How Long Can a Baby Go Without Pooping?

We’ve established that every baby is different, and we know what symptoms to look for, but how long is too long? How long can a baby go without pooping? The rather unsatisfying answer: It depends.

Newborns

During the newborn stage, you can expect both breastfed and formula-fed babies to have one dirty diaper for every day of life.

On day one, she’ll have one dirty diaper; on day two, she’ll have two dirty diapers. Around day four, you can expect a baby to have 3 to 4 dirty diapers per day.

Older babies

But once baby gets a little older, the amount of soiled diapers varies more. And how baby is getting his nutrients can affect how often he’s pooping.

  • Breastfed babies: After eight weeks, baby may poop as frequently as once per day and as infrequently as once a week. Does that seem like a crazy low figure? The reason for this is that babies absorb so many of the nutrients from breastmilk—there just isn’t much left over as waste.
  • Formula-fed babies: Formula-fed babies typically do not see such a sharp decline in bowel movements after the first few weeks. Many formula-fed babies will continue to pass stools once a day or even once after every feeding due to the contents of formula. Monitor your baby’s diaper habits to learn what’s normal for him, and that will help you determine when to treat him for constipation.

Why Pay So Much Attention to Baby’s Diapers?

What is or isn’t in our baby’s diaper tells us what they can’t tell us verbally. Our bodies often provide hints about our overall health, and a baby’s body is no different. We just have to learn to read their signs, too.

My Baby Is Constipated. Now What?

If the above signs of constipation suggest baby is backed up, check out this post for natural constipation remedies.

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About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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