Causes of Infant Constipation


Causes of infant constipation needs investigated, if your little angel, be it a new born baby, toddler, or older child fails to open its bowel at least once in five to seven days. Averagely, most children open their bowel once to three times a day or once in every two or three days, some four days or five.

Thankfully, most causes of constipation in children are innocuous, and would often respond to simple treatment, like use of malt extract or lactulose in those less than one year of age, and mineral oil or enemas in older kids.

Remember, constipation in kids could be a cause of unexplained abdominal pain. So before making that trip to the hospital, find out if your child has been opening is bowel and remember to mention it to the doctor.

Causes of infant constipation can easily be understood, if we take a brief look into how faeces is formed, stored and passed out of our system. Any disruption or alteration in the natural process of stool formation and passage would cause constipation in an infant … or diarrhoea, depending on the extent.

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Ingested food passes down our stomach into the small intestines where most of the digestions take place. The unwanted bits pass down to the large intestines as a thick pasty liquid. This movement down the bowel is achieved by the action of the muscles of the wall of the bowel.

In the colon – large intestine, 95% of the liquid pasty unabsorbed meal is reabsorbed as water, leaving behind formed stool. The formed stool moves down further to the rectum, a 25 cm tube with three lateral bends. As more faeces pass down to the rectum, the wall is distended, and a critical point is reached where it sends message to the brain that the bowel needs to be opened to let off faeces or defecate.

There are two sphincters or valve-like muscles that guard the gate from the rectum and anus to the external world. These are controlled by local impulses from the bowel nerves and impulse from the brain. Working in unison, the sphincter controlled by bowel impulse causes faecal material to move down and once it is socially acceptable, controls from the brain help to complete the process.

If the individual overrides the impulse to pass faeces, it remains stored in the lower colon and rectum. This allows even more water to be squeezed out of the faecal material, making it hard even more.

Weakness of the intestinal or large bowel muscles would thus lead to constipation, as would refusal to use the toilet over a prolonged time despite the urge to defecate arising from fear of defecation in kids who are potty trained.

So, infant constipation could arise from failure of this elaborate mechanism or from a conscious or subconscious instruction from the brain to stop bowel opening, in what doctors call functional causes of constipation.

Causes of Infant Constipation – First 28 Days of Life

A newly born child should ideally pass faeces –first stool called meconium, within the first 24 hours of life. Non-passage of this greenish stool up to 48 hours suggests that all is perhaps not well.

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In this situation, causes of non-passage of meconium or stool in the first day of life include:

  • Imperforate anus (lack of communicating channel between the bowels and the anus in the child)
  • Anal stricture (presence of a very narrow anal outlet)
  • Hirschsprung disease
  • Cystic fibrosis.

It is only your doctor that can investigate at this point and tell for sure if any of these problems exists.

After the first 24 -48 hours of life, infant constipation is uncommon, especially in breast fed babies.

Breast milk has a mild laxative effect, and causes children who are breast feed to open their bowel, almost after each feed. Thus breast fed babies could open their bowel up to 5 times a day.

Bottle fed babies on the other hand could have a very wide variation in the frequency at which they open their bowel. This could range from once in every other day to once in 4 or 5 days.

What may be thought to be constipation in such kids could in fact be their normal routine. The frequency and consistency of their stool would also vary due to the type of infant milk being use and how they are mixed and prepared.

Generally, causes of infant constipation within this period may be due to poor fluid in take or changing of milk or introduction of formula milk. In crease fluid intake to the child and if no improvement, seek medical help immediately.

If there is no bowel opening after 5 days, it would be reasonable to see a doctor.

Causes of Infant Constipation – Under 1 year of Life

The main causes of infant constipation here is change of feeds, lack of adequate fluid intake and fear of defecation during potty training.

Other causes of infant constipation may include:

Sexual abuse – leading to psychological disturbance and behavioural problems

  • Under active thyroid gland
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Diabetes
  • Lead poisioning
  • Fibre poor diet and others mentioned on the overview page.

    You can speak to a GP if you live in the UK 24 hours of the day to get advice on and discuss the possible causes of infant constipation by qualified GP to address any futher concerns you may have.

    Read more on causes of infant constipation and constipation in children the following sections:

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