Is your newborn constipated? The real reason your little one can’t poop.

She turns red in the face, grunts, pushes…and nothing comes out. I know what you’re thinking. Poor baby, she hasn’t pooped in days. You’ve called your doctor, or consulted a baby book; you may have tried all the poop-producing tricks like the “thermometer in the bottom” and massaging her belly. Still no results.

So what’s going on? The truth is that pooping is way more difficult to accomplish than you would guess. Not only does your baby have to figure out how to use her abdominal muscles to push downward, she also has to relax her anal sphincter, while laying down…all at the same time! This great feat of coordination takes more practice than say, learning to ride a bicycle or juggling. You may notice that sometimes your baby pushes hard, and you expect to see hard stool, and then she has nice, soft squishy baby poop. Then you know the poop itself is not the problem.

What if your baby isn’t pooping, and she isn’t even trying to poop? Is she constipated? Probably not. Imagine if you were on a milk-only diet. If you don’t put any fiber in your gut, you’re not going to have much of anything to make into poop. Formula and breast milk are so easy to digest that babies absorb most of what they drink. That’s why your doctor may say that a baby can go up to about a week without pooping. You’ll hear various statistics given from different sources. Word on the street is that formula fed babies should poop every 3 days and breast fed babies can go up to a week.

So, what if you are feeding your baby breast milk and formula?  The number of days you hear quoted are all a load of, well, poop. Just ignore those numbers and focus on what you have read above.  Your baby’s poop should be soft, like soft-serve ice cream or yogurt. If she poops pellets, or well-formed tootsie rolls of stool, then I would talk to your doctor about constipation.  If she’s grunting and straining, just comfort her and tell her she can do it. She will learn to poop if she just keeps practicing. Parenting Team Contributor

Author: Wendy Hunter, MD

Pediatrician at Children's Primary Care Medical Group, La Jolla, CA

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