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Constant Constipation
June 2001

Q. My 5-month-old baby boy is continually constipated. I have been to 3 pediatricians, my family doctor and two other GP's and two public health nurses and they have all basically said that it is normal...

It is NOT normal. He used to have normal bowel movements, about two to three a day and then all of a sudden he stopped going regularly and would only go about once every three weeks, sometimes only with a suppository. I know that breast fed babies sometimes don't go every day but this was getting ridiculous. Also, he had a lot of pain in his tummy and had horrible gas, and would also try to have a movement and couldn't. He is on formula and eating some kinds of foods now and it hasn't gotten any better. He has a bm about every three days, and when he does, he strains for about 10-20 minutes, cries, gets sweaty and red in the face and grunts. This leaves him exhausted.

I have tried prunes, prune juice, apple juice, soggy bran in breast milk (all that happened was that he pooped out the bran), lots of water, apple sauce, and lansoyl (mineral oil gelly). Nothing helps. I don't know what to do because these doctors won't listen, they just hear "He isn't going" and then say "Oh it's normal". Do you have any suggestions for me?? I don't know what to do, it breaks my heart to watch him try to go because he is in so much pain...

A. A normal bowel pattern varies tremendously, both with adults and with children. The key is not how frequently one has a bowel movement, but how difficult the bowel movement is. Therefore, your baby having one bowel movement every three days is within the normal range. However, the key is that your child has so much trouble when he does go to the bathroom.

You have done a lot of good things by trying the prune juice, lots of water, etc. One thing that is helpful for some children is to take Karo syrup, starting with a teaspoon and working up to a tablespoon in eight ounces of milk. It seems to me, however, that if your child has had difficulty with the other remedies, the Karo syrup might not help. Still, it is worth a try. The key is to go to the doctorıs and not say that your child is constipated, but rather explicitly state how difficult it is for your child to have a bowel movement. The fact that he strains, cries, gets sweaty, and red in the face should tip the doctors off that this is something that should be addressed.

Additional information can be obtained at the following Web pages:

http://www.bdf.org.uk/leaflets/constip.html

http://www.jsonline.com/alive/column/sep00/young092000.asp

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