Constipation – Recognition, Prevalence and Management

What is constipation?

Constipation is defined as abnormally delayed or infrequent passage of dry, hard stools often accompanied with pain and/or straining.1

There are many potential causes, including:

  • Poor diet
  • Dehydration
  • Anal fissures
  • Social/psychological
  • Medication

How do we recognise constipation?

Because bowel motion is so varied between each baby, it is difficult to identify constipation based on frequency2. If stools are firm, dry and pellet-like then baby is likely to be experiencing constipation. Babies suffering from constipation may experience pain and/or straining when passing stools, foul smelling wind and stools and excessive flatulence.

Prevalence of constipation

The prevalence of constipation varies greatly between studies, but experts have agreed on an average prevalence of 15% for functional constipation in the first year of life3. No difference was reported between boys and girls4-6.


Management tips to give to parents

  • Massage the baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction, making firm but gentle circular motions from the belly button outwards.
  • Place the baby on their back. Gently move their legs backwards and forwards in a ‘bicycle’ motion.
  • Give the infant a warm bath to relax the bowel.
  • Offer some cool boiled water.