Family Health Guide

You are here

Constipation: Diagnosis

Many new moms worry that their baby is not pooping normally (who ever thought you’d spend so much time obsessing about this?). Exclusively breastfed babies, however, are actually rarely constipated, since breast milk is digested so easily. If your breastfed baby grunts or squirms a bit while filling her diaper, it may just be gas or her digestive system maturing. Formula-fed babies experience true constipation more often. Many moms assume it’s the iron in formula, since iron supplements can constipate adults, but the culprit is the proteins, sometimes milk proteins, which can be hard to digest.

However, if your baby or older child seems to truly have problems with going #2, you’ll want to speak with your pediatrician about a treatment plan (which might just be a simple change in diet) and to rule out other conditions like hypothyroidism, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or a metabolic disorder. "If acute constipation isn't treated quickly, the condition can become chronic, even at a young age," says Joseph Croffie, M.D., pediatric gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. In fact, about 25 percent of chronic childhood constipation begins in infancy.

Purposeful stool retention can start later, often around the same time as potty training, as issues of independence, control and anxiety surface. Your child may also be so busy playing and exploring that he ignores the urge to go. If you notice a pattern of holding poops in, you’ll want to see your doctor for ideas on encouraging healthy bathroom habits, like putting up a sticker chart, or instituting sit-downs at regular times of day.