How long is too long for a breastfed baby to go without pooping?

How often do babies who are breastfed normally have bowel movements, and what is the definition of constipation in breastfed babies? How can you manage this common concern?

Constipation in Breastfed Babies

Babies who are breastfed can often go several days without a bowel movement. Even though their stool is soft, it may seem like they have many days of no stool followed by a "blow-out."

For an older infant or child, going 5 or 6 days without a bowel movement would usually be a problem. In an exclusively breastfed baby who is gaining weight normally, however, this behavior is usually normal. As long as the "blow-out" appears painless, most parents have nothing to worry about.

Definition of Constipation in Infants

In younger infants, constipation is often defined more by what the bowel movements look like than how often they occur.

Younger infants are usually considered constipated if their bowel movements are like hard, little pellets, or if they are very large, firm, and difficult to pass.

Some people also consider an infant constipated if their bowel movements have a consistency that is thicker than peanut butter and if the child appears to need to strain to pass them. Simply straining to pass a loose or soft bowel movement, however, is probably not a sign of constipation.

Bowel Movement Frequency

It's important to note that babies who are exclusively breastfed very rarely get constipated. After having very frequent bowel movements during the first month or two of life, exclusively breastfed babies then begin to have bowel movements much less frequently.

In fact, some breastfed babies only have bowel movements every week or two. In these children, as long as the bowel movements are watery or soft when they finally have them, the child is likely not constipated.

Even if a baby has infrequent stools—only once a week or even less frequent—if they still have a normal consistency, there is nothing you should do.

Why do breastfed babies have such infrequent bowel movements? Most people believe it is because breastmilk gets digested so efficiently that there is not much left to make bowel movements. Of course, once you start feeding your baby solid foods, that will likely change. At that point, they will probably have more regular bowel movements and they will probably be firmer.

Infrequent Stools in Breastfed Babies

There are some situations, however, in which it is definitely not normal for a breastfed baby to have such infrequent bowel movements, including:

  • A baby who has delayed passage of meconium during their first few days of life and who has had problems passing bowel movements since they were born can be a cause for concern as infrequent stools could be a sign of Hirschsprung's disease—though this is uncommon, affecting only 1 in 5,000 babies. Evidence of constipation in this disease usually appears towards the end of the first month of life.
  • Infrequent stools in a breastfed baby in the first few weeks or months of life can be a sign that they aren't getting enough breast milk. In this situation, the baby would likely either still be losing weight or will not be gaining weight well and infrequent stools would also be accompanied by too few wet diapers.
  • When infrequent stools in an older infant are accompanied by issues with gaining weight, it could be a sign that the baby isn't getting enough to eat, has a failure to thrive, or has some other medical problem.

In all of the above cases, it's always best to keep an eye on your child's symptoms and communicate with your child's pediatrician.

Advice for Blood in a Baby's Stool

Treatment for Infant Constipation

Though constipation is uncommon in babies who are breastfed exclusively, it is common once solid foods are introduced into their diet. At that time, even bowel movements that occur as frequently as every other day could be considered constipation if a child strains or otherwise signals that passing their bowels is uncomfortable.

In addition, children who have painful bowel movements may begin to hold their stool (to avoid the pain) causing further discomfort.

The vast majority of the time, this type of constipation is normal. There are a few medical conditions that can lead to constipation in infants, such as cystic fibrosis, but these are usually accompanied by other associated symptoms your pediatrician will be monitoring, such as poor weight gain.

Don't hesitate to call your pediatrician if you think your child is constipated or is having other issues with their bowel movements.

Normal constipation in infants is a common reason for visits to the pediatrician. Most of the time, dietary changes can resolve constipation. Infant massage can also aid in digestion, which may relieve constipation.

If your child has begun to hold their stools (again, this is not common in breastfed infants), a mild laxative may be needed. Always consult your child's pediatrician before giving your child a new medication, including over-the-counter products.

How long can breastfed babies go without a bowel movement?

Breastfed babies, especially if they have not started solid foods, can easily go two weeks without a poopy diaper once they are 2-3 months old. Breastmilk is exactly what your baby needs, and so there is little waste product left for the baby to poop out. Exclusively breastfed babies are almost never constipated.

Should I be worried if my newborn hasn't pooped in 12 hours?

Your newborn should have a bowel movement at least once a day during the first month. If they don't, call your doctor, as the baby may not be eating enough. After that, a formula-fed infant should have one at least one a day, but breastfed infants can go several days or even a week without one.

How often does a breastfed baby need to poop?

Expect at least three bowel movements each day for the first 6 weeks. Some breastfed babies have 4 to 12 bowel movements per day. Your baby may also pass stool after each feeding. If your breastfed baby is having less than three bowel movements a day, they might not be getting enough milk.