Why Do Babies Struggle Pooping?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 8/11/2022

“Normal” pooping in babies

When it comes to pooping and babies, you should be concerned with frequency and consistency. Babies may struggle with pooping due to dehydration, they anticipate discomfort or pain, or they experience infant dyschezia.
Sometimes babies struggle to poop.

New babies have a lot to adjust to once they leave the womb. As your new baby begins a diet of breast milk or formula, their digestive system might not produce consistent bowel movements immediately. Therefore, constipation in newborns, also known as infant dyschezia, is normal. 

Fortunately, it can oftentimes be treated at home.

During the first days of your baby’s life, they will have very dark, sticky stools that are called meconium. Your baby has been storing this kind of poop in their system since before they were born. 

As your child starts to drink breast milk or formula, the meconium is pushed out of the intestinal tract and clears within a few days. Then, your baby’s stools should be tan, yellow, green, or a combination of these colors.

These first poops shouldn’t be very stinky, but they might smell a little cheesy. First stools will have the consistency of pudding, scrambled eggs, or something similar, with a lot of little seed-like particles.

When it comes to pooping and babies, you should be concerned with frequency and consistency. After the first few days, your baby should have between two and five soft poops within a 24-hour period. This is considered typical for the first 6 weeks. It’s possible for healthy babies to poop more or less than this as long as they’re not showing any other signs of constipation.

After 6 weeks of life, your baby’s bowel movements will probably decrease. If your baby is gaining weight and seems happy, it can be normal for them to poop anywhere from multiple times a day to just once a week.

Normal pooping for each baby is different! What you’re feeding your baby will affect the consistency of their stools, especially once you introduce solids into their diet.

Signs of constipation in babies

If your child is constipated, they could show physical signs or exhibit discomfort in their behavior. 

Symptoms of mild constipation you can try to treat at home include:

  • Your baby’s stools are hard, dry, and crumbly. They may look like marbles.
  • Your baby is crying while pooping and visibly uncomfortable while trying to poop. It’s normal for babies to strain, but not to be in pain.
  • Your baby’s poop or gas is unusually stinky.
  • Your baby is eating noticeably less.
  • Your baby’s belly is hard to the touch.

Check your baby’s anus if you think they have infant dyschezia. If their stools are hard enough, they can produce small tears in the anus that can bleed and cause more discomfort.

If constipation is serious, you should get in touch with your healthcare provider or emergency care immediately. Serious signs of constipation include the following:

  • Your baby is throwing up.
  • Your baby has a fever.
  • Your baby is lethargic.
  • Your baby has a swollen stomach.
  • Your baby has bloody stools.

Causes of constipation in babies

Constipation in babies can happen for a number of reasons. For small babies, it’s typically because they aren’t getting enough fluids. As they get older, they might try to avoid bowel movements because they anticipate discomfort and pain.

Infant dyschezia can also happen because your new baby doesn’t know exactly how to work their body. Your baby’s stomach muscles need to tighten while their butt muscles relax in order to poop. Some babies struggle to coordinate initially.

Treating constipation in babies

It can be nerve-wracking to try and treat constipation in your newborn child. Don’t give them medication, though, unless it has been prescribed or recommended by your healthcare provider. If your baby takes breast milk, you may need to feed them more often. If your baby takes formula, pay attention to how you prepare their bottles:

  • Are you closely following the directions on the package?
  • Are you putting enough water in the bottle?
  • Are you using the scoop that came with the formula? Note that different brands of formula may use different-sized scoops.
  • Are you packing the formula powder tightly into the scoop? Make sure it’s full of loose, leveled powder.
  • Are you adding the powdered formula into the bottle before the water? Add the water first to make sure you’re using the correct amount of water.

If you have only recently begun introducing solids into your baby’s diet, try these things to encourage regular bowel movements:

  • Encourage them to drink water or watered-down juice in between meals.
  • Offer pureed or chopped fruits and vegetables with every meal, including stewed apricots, stewed prunes, or steamed vegetables.
  • When possible, add water to your baby’s solid food.

On top of these tips, you can try:

  • Moving your baby’s legs around as if they were riding a bike to promote movement in their bowels
  • Giving your baby a gentle tummy massage
  • Bathing your baby in warm water to help their muscles relax. Note that if this works, your baby will poop in the bathwater
  • Holding your baby’s legs in a frog-leg or squat position

It can take a few weeks or even a few months for constipation to disappear. It is hard to watch your child struggle with this, but it may just be a matter of waiting for them to learn how to use their new body. Remember that grunts and visible pushing will stop as your baby becomes more practiced with pooping.


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Seek help

You can ask your healthcare provider to check to see how your baby is doing. Be prepared to answer questions about their sleeping routine, eating habits, and developmental milestones. You should also offer information about your baby’s behavior while they are trying to poop, like if they strain or cry for an extended period of time before successfully producing a bowel movement.

If your baby is less than six weeks old and is seriously constipated, you should visit your healthcare provider to make sure it isn’t a sign of an underlying condition. Trust your instincts, no matter what age your baby is. You know best what is normal and abnormal when it comes to your child.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 8/11/2022

Children's Wisconsin. "Infants straining to move bowels."

Kids Health. "How Can I Tell if My Baby Is Constipated?"

La Leche League International. "Constipation."

Pregnancy Birth & Baby. "Constipation in babies."