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Overview

Constipation in an infant is not a common occurrence but it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of this issue in a young child as it can cause discomfort or pain in the affected individual.

These signs and symptoms include:

  • Decreased or less frequent bowel movements from what one is used to seeing.
  • Bowel movements that seem like they are difficult to pass. This may cause the infant to arch their back or to cry.
  • When stool is passed it looks like hard, pellet-like objects.

Management

The normal amount of stool an infant will pass varies on the child's age and what they eat and drink. It's important to know that infants have weak abdominal muscles and they seem to strain when they are having a bowel movement, so it's unlikely that the child is constipated if a soft bowel movement is passed after a few minutes of straining.

Constipation in infants seems to be a problem when the child begins to consume solid foods. 

Therefore, simple dietary changes may be all that's needed to help alleviate the problem. These include:

  • Pureeing foods such as peas and prunes and adding these to the diet helps to increase the fibre content making stools bulkier because this allows for more water to be absorbed in the colon. Also, try changing from rice to multigrain, barley, or wheat cereals as these contain more fibre.
  • Small amounts of water or around 60 to 120ml of 100 percent pear, prune, or apple juice should be given to the infant together with their usual feedings. The sorbitol in these juices acts as a laxative helping to keep them regular. See if the child needs more or less of the suggested amount every day depending on how their bowel movements are.

If these dietary suggestions are not effective, the infant is still struggling with their bowel movements, or a few days have passed since the child last passed stool then inserting a glycerine suppository in the child's rectum may help to lubricate any hard contents. Glycerine suppositories are only meant for occasional use though.

Please, do not treat infant constipation with stimulant laxatives, mineral oil, or enemas as these can cause complications to the child rather than help offer them relief from constipation. 

If the glycerine also doesn't help, or the child has other symptoms such as vomiting or generalized weakness, then one should consult with the family doctor to assess the infant to see if there are maybe any other underlying issues that would cause constipation.

Other conditions may include:

  • Cystic Fibrosis - a respiratory disease associated with decreased clearance of mucous from the airways may result in constipation due to altered intestinal fluid. 
  • Hypothyroidism - an underactive thyroid gland decreases one's metabolic rate which affects the way the body's digestive system works.
  • Hirschsprung 's disease -  a congenital condition that presents at birth. It is associated with missing nerve cells in the muscles of the large intestine thereby affecting the way stool is passed by an infant.

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