Constipation is when the body has difficulty passing stool. This can take the form of:
- dry, hard bowel movements
- having a bowel movement less than three times per week
- feeling as if you’re straining to pass stool
Children under the age of 5 often experience constipation. It’s a common reason for children to visit their doctor.
But because toddlers and infants may not know how to communicate — or even be aware of — difficulty having a bowel movement, it’s harder to catch.
Parents and guardians should pay attention to the symptoms of constipation, which include:
- infrequent bowel movements
- bloody or dry stools
Constipation can sometimes lead to stool withholding. That may then make the constipation worse.
Prune juice has been used for a long time to relieve constipation because of its ability to stimulate the digestive tract. Prune juice won’t work for every child, and it’s important to recognize that it has limitations as a treatment for constipation.
Read on to learn about using prune juice to treat constipation in your child and when it’s time to see their pediatrician.
Prune juice treats constipation for a couple of reasons. Dried plums, which is what prune juice is made from, have
The phenolic compounds in dried plums and prune juice are also effective laxatives.
If your child is over 1 year old, it’s generally safe to give them prune juice in small amounts to relieve constipation.
However, juice is not recommended for infants younger than 1 year old unless medically indicated. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician before giving any juice.
Keep in mind that prune juice and plum allergies do occur in a small percentage of people. Sorbitol can also cause bloating and gas.
For these reasons, introduce prune juice gradually and in small doses if you’re using it to treat constipation. Ideally, your child will be old enough to have tried prune juice before you have to use it as a treatment option.
Newborns are younger than 2 months old. It’s not unusual for them to strain, cry, grunt, and have gas, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re constipated. It’s likely they’re figuring out the mechanics of having a bowel movement.
Newborns who are breastfed may also go longer between bowel movements than babies consuming formula.
When a baby is younger than 2 months old, it’s not considered unusual for them to go more than five days without a bowel movement.
Constipation isn’t common for this age group. If you suspect your baby is constipated, speak to their pediatrician for a checkup.
Infants range from 2 to 12 months old. Once your baby is at this stage, it’s still not recommended to give them any juice unless cleared by their doctor.
If your infant’s pediatrician gives the OK, they can provide guidance on how much prune juice is safe to give your baby. A good rule of thumb is 1 ounce of prune juice per month of life with a max daily dose of 4 ounces.
Administer the prune juice no more than twice per day to help relieve their constipation. You may also want to dilute the juice with water to help your baby hydrate. Continue formula- or breastfeeding as you normally would.
If your child doesn’t use a cup, give them prune juice in a syringe or with a spoon.
Once your child passes their first birthday, they’re considered a toddler. Constipation for toddlers is common, especially during toilet training.
Prune juice at the toddler stage can be given in larger doses to relieve constipation, but still limit it to less than a cup per day of constipation. More than that may irritate your child’s stomach.
If you have a child in the infant or toddler range, consider keeping prune juice on hand to treat constipation. Having it ahead of time will give you the best opportunity to use it.
You can find prune juice at many grocery and health food stores. Make sure the prune juice is pasteurized. This process kills any harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella.
If you’re caring for a constipated baby or toddler, prune juice isn’t your only home treatment option.
Newborns, infants, and toddlers may benefit from a relaxing, warm bath. Bathing your child may help them relax their muscles and release a bowel movement.
Babies 6 months and older can be given water to drink. Hydrating the digestive tract is a simple way to get things moving and soften stools.
Massaging your child’s stomach in a clockwise motion, or holding your child’s knees together and pushing their legs up gently, may release gas and help with passing stool.
If your toddler is constipated, they may need to try several different positions on the toilet to get enough leverage to release a hardened bowel movement. Try adding a small stool underneath your child’s feet or propping their legs up to help them get this leverage.
Give your child plenty of time to pass a bowel movement and tell them so. Getting nervous on the toilet is common for toddlers and can make symptoms of constipation last longer. Bring some of their favorite books to the bathroom to help pass the time and make if fun.
Constipation in babies and toddlers most often develops from one of the following:
- sensitivities to infant formula
- a high-dairy diet
- a low-fiber diet
- not taking in enough water
Constipation may also appear when your child starts potty training. If your child is becoming frequently constipated while you try to potty train them, you may need to stop for a week or two and start the process over once the symptoms have subsided.
Since constipation is common in infants and toddlers, your best bet is to be vigilant about the symptoms of constipation. Symptoms to look out for include:
- fear or avoidance of bowel movements
- pain or straining during bowel movements
- liquid or claylike substance in your child’s diaper or underwear between bowel movements
- fewer than three bowel movements per week for a non-breastfed baby
- stools large in diameter
- abdominal pain
- excessive crying along with hard stools
Most cases of constipation can be treated at home with the remedies mentioned above. But recurrent or chronic constipation requires medical treatment.
If you notice the following, call your child’s pediatrician for advice:
- suspected constipation in a newborn
- blood in stool
- abdominal swelling
- a fever that lasts longer than 24 hours
- sudden weight loss
If you aren’t sure whether it’s an emergency or you can’t get in touch with your pediatrician, visit an urgent care center.
If your baby is exclusively breastfed, it’s very unlikely they’ll become constipated. Be sure to include plenty of water in your own diet if you’re the one providing the baby’s breast milk.
Babies can become constipated because of medications or sensitivities to ingredients in infant formula. Consult your child’s pediatrician if you believe this is a possibility.
Babies and toddlers who experience frequent constipation may need to drink more water or have more fiber added to their diet.
Having your child sit on the toilet at the same time each day can also help regulate their body as they get used to this routine.
Prune juice can be an effective and low-risk home remedy for treating constipation in young children.
If your child is younger than 1 year or has a history of food allergies, proceed with caution and see a doctor before trying prune juice.
Be sure to carefully measure out doses of prune juice when giving it to your child to relieve constipation. Too much prune juice may overwhelm their digestive tract and cause further discomfort.