There are a lot of home remedies that were used in the olden days to make it through the trenches of parenting. Using Karo syrup to help a constipated child is one of those home remedies some people mention. Is Karo syrup safe to use for constipation? Here's what you need to know.

Constipation Explained

Constipation occurs when your child passes a painful stool or when the number of bowel movements is less frequent than normal. This can happen even if their stool is soft. This means that any time your child has difficulty or pain passing stool, they’re constipated.

In general, constipation tends to happen a lot during potty training. It’s especially prevalent between the ages of 2 and 4. Sometimes, it can be hard to determine what normal bowel movements are for your child, as it can vary drastically. For example, breast-feeding infants can go for up to 14 days without passing stool and not have a problem.

How Will I Know If My Child Has Constipation?

The best way to know if your child has constipation is to pay attention to their bowel movements. You should also observe their behavior while they’re passing stool. An infant or small child may not be able to tell you when they’re feeling constipated, so it’s up to you and your observation skills. If you notice a decrease in the number of bowel movements, your child may be constipated. Straining, crying, and turning red with exertion are all signs of constipation.

What Causes Constipation?

Most of the time, constipation is considered to be “functional constipation.” This means that it isn’t the result of a serious, chronic medical condition. Less than 5 percent of children with constipation had an underlying condition that was causing their constipation.

Instead, constipation is usually related to diet, medication, or even stress. Some children can inadvertently make constipation worse by “holding it in.” This is usually because they’re afraid of passing a painful stool. This often creates a vicious cycle of painful bowel movements.

What Is Karo Syrup?

Karo syrup is a commercially prepared corn syrup. The syrup is derived from cornstarch. It’s typically used to make foods sweet and moist while also preventing the crystallization of sugar.

It’s worth noting that there are different kinds of corn syrup marketed under the “Karo” name. The dark corn syrup that was once a common home treatment is much different than today’s commercially prepared dark corn syrup.

In many cases, today’s dark corn syrup has a different chemical structure. The current chemical structure doesn’t draw fluids into the intestine to soften stool. Because of this, dark corn syrup may not be effective in relieving constipation.

It isn’t known whether light corn syrup may be helpful.

How Can Karo Syrup Be Used for Constipation?

Specific sugar proteins in the syrup can actually help keep water in the stool. This can prevent the stool from compacting. These proteins are usually only found in dark corn syrup. Still, today’s dark corn syrup has a much different chemical structure than the syrup used by previous generations. This means that it may not always work.

One study found that using a corn syrup in combination with changes in diet relieved constipation in about one-quarter of children with constipation.

If you decide to try this home remedy, it’s important to take the correct dose. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, after your baby is 1 month old some doctors may recommend that you can give 1 to 2 tablespoons of corn syrup per day to relieve constipation.

Is It Safe to Use Karo Syrup Today for Constipation?

The Karo website warns that there’s a small risk that their syrup may contain Clostridium botulinum spores. Although these spores generally aren’t harmful, you should check with your child’s doctor before giving this syrup to your child.

There are other, more reliable, means of relieving constipation. Laxatives, such as Milk of Magnesia and polyethylene glycol, are considered safe, effective treatments for infants and toddlers.

If your newborn is constipated, you should consult your child’s doctor before trying any at-home remedy. For older infants, parents can use an infant glycerin suppository to help stimulate the lower bowel.

Read more: 9 remedies for your baby’s constipation »

How to Prevent Your Child from Becoming Constipated

Here are a few tips to help keep your child’s bowel movements regular:

  • Breast-feed when possible. Breast milk provides complete nutrition for your infant. If it all possible, breast-feed your baby or feed your baby pumped breast milk.
  • Reduce your child’s intake of cow's milk. Some children may experience temporary sensitivity to the proteins in cow's milk. This can contribute to constipation.
  • Offer a balanced diet. Make sure your child has a well-rounded diet. If their doctor approves, it may also be helpful to offer a chewable fiber supplement to help stimulate a bowel movement.

If your child is experiencing frequent constipation, you should schedule an appointment with their doctor. Together, you can come up with a plan to alleviate your child’s constipation.