Laxative Safety For Babies

can liquid laxative hurt my baby

Laxatives are a common medication used to treat constipation, which is defined as having bowel movements fewer than three times per week and producing hard, dry stool. While laxatives are generally safe for most people, they may not be suitable for everyone, especially babies. It is always recommended to check with a healthcare provider before giving your baby any medication, including laxatives.

Characteristics Values
Can I give my baby laxatives? Always check with a GP before giving your baby or child a laxative. Laxatives are not recommended for babies who have not been weaned.
What can I do to relieve my baby's constipation? Try giving them extra water in between feeds. Gently massaging their tummy and moving their legs in a cycling motion may also help.
What are the symptoms of constipation in babies? Pain and discomfort when trying to poo, small tears around the anus, tummy pains, 'holding on' behaviour like rocking or fidgeting, crossing legs or refusing to sit on the toilet.
What are the causes of constipation in children? Holding poos in, not eating enough fibre, being too busy playing, having pain when they poo, not wanting to use the toilets at school, being sick and eating and drinking less.
What are the causes of constipation in babies? A hard poo that has caused a tear in the rectum or anus, or not having enough breastmilk.
What are the home remedies for constipation in babies? Dietary changes, exercise movements, and massage.
What dietary changes can help relieve constipation in babies? Babies over 6 months who are eating solid foods may benefit from drinking extra water between feeds. Babies who have not yet started on solid foods may benefit from taking 1–2 ounces of 100% prune, pear, or apple juice.
What types of laxatives are there? Osmotic laxatives, liquid paraffin oil, and stimulants.


Laxatives and breastfeeding

Laxatives are medications used to treat constipation. They come in different forms, including over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives such as osmotics, fiber or bulk, stool softeners, stimulants, and lubricants. When breastfeeding, it is important to consider the type of laxative you are taking, as some may be preferable to others.

Osmotic and Bulk Laxatives

Osmotics are laxatives that work by pulling water into the intestines, making it easier to pass bowel movements. Examples include salts, such as magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia) and sugars, such as lactulose and polyethylene glycol (Miralax). These medications are not well absorbed by the intestine, so very little is expected to pass into breast milk. Therefore, osmotic laxatives are generally considered safe during breastfeeding.

Similarly, bulk laxatives, such as psyllium (Metamucil) and methylcellulose (Citrucel), are not typically absorbed into the bloodstream, so they are also unlikely to pass into breast milk. They work by absorbing water within the gut to produce softer and larger stools.

Stool Softeners

Stool softeners, such as docusate sodium (Colace) and glycerin, are safe to use while breastfeeding because they are not absorbed through the intestines to any significant extent. This means that they are not expected to be present in breast milk.

Stimulants and Lubricants

Stimulant laxatives, such as senna (Senokot), bisacodyl (Correctol), and castor oil, should not be used routinely by anyone as they can lead to a reliance on their action. While they can be useful for occasional use, they may cause stomach cramps and the evacuation of all bowel contents. There are occasional reports of loose stools in infants exposed to laxatives through breastfeeding. Lubricants, such as mineral oil, can enter the bloodstream and breast milk in small amounts, so they should be used with caution.


While the above-mentioned laxatives are generally considered safe during breastfeeding, it is always important to consult your healthcare provider before taking any medication, especially when breastfeeding. They can advise you on the most suitable laxative for your specific situation and provide guidance on appropriate dosages. Additionally, it is recommended to stay away from unnecessary medications and focus on dietary and lifestyle changes, such as increasing fluid intake, consuming high-fibre foods, and regular exercise, to treat constipation whenever possible.

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Dietary changes to treat constipation

It is important to consult a healthcare professional before making any dietary changes, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. They can advise you on the right amount of fibre for you and your baby.

If you are experiencing constipation, dietary changes can help bring about relief. Constipation can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, or gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. In almost every case, food is an important factor.


Fibre is a major component of foods that relieve constipation, and it also has other digestive benefits. It supports the microbiome, the healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive tract, and helps with gut motility, the coordination of muscle contractions in the intestines that push food along the digestive process.

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre is what we think of as roughage, which the body cannot break down in digestion. Soluble fibre dissolves in water, forming a gel that adds bulk and acts as a natural stool softener.

Foods high in insoluble fibre include:

Skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables

Foods containing soluble fibre include:

  • Potatoes and apples
  • Yogurt and kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Broccoli
  • Most beans, lentils, and peas
  • Kiwifruit
  • Apples and pears
  • Grapes
  • Blackberries and raspberries
  • Prunes
  • Whole wheat bread, cereals, and pasta


Liquids add moisture to stools, making them softer and easier to pass. Dehydration is a common cause of constipation, so drinking plenty of water can help to ease or resolve the symptoms. Other liquids that can help include:

  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Clear soups

Other Dietary Changes

If you are chronically constipated, cutting down on high-fat foods may help. These include fried food, processed meats, commercially baked goods, and cheese.


If your unweaned baby is constipated, try giving them extra water in between feeds. Gently massaging their tummy and moving their legs in a cycling motion may also help. If your baby is eating solid foods, ensure they are drinking plenty of water or diluted fruit juice, and increase the amount of fibre in their diet. If they are still constipated, consult a healthcare professional.

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Signs of constipation in babies

It is important to note that constipation is common in babies and will often pass without intervention. However, if you are worried about your baby, it is best to consult a doctor or a maternal child health nurse.

  • Your baby may show signs of straining or discomfort when trying to pass a stool. They might cry, get red in the face, or clench their buttocks.
  • Fussiness or irritability.
  • A decrease in appetite or difficulty feeding.
  • A tear or crack in the skin around the anus, which may sometimes bleed.
  • A bloated stomach or larger-than-usual abdomen.
  • Hard, solid lumps may be felt by gently pressing on their stomach.
  • Traces of blood on the stool or toilet paper.
  • Your baby is not passing stools regularly, especially if they go more than 3 days without a stool.

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to seek advice from a healthcare professional. They can assess your baby and recommend safe strategies or treatments for constipation.

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Home remedies for constipation

Constipation is a common issue that can be relieved through various home remedies. Here are some natural ways to help ease constipation:

  • Drink more water: Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated can help get things moving again. Aim for at least 1.8 litres or about seven to eight glasses of clear liquids daily.
  • Increase fibre intake: Fibre adds bulk and consistency to bowel movements, making them easier to pass. Try to include more high-fibre foods in your diet, such as whole grains, fruits like apples, bananas, and berries, vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and leafy greens, and nuts such as walnuts, pecans, and almonds.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the gut. Consuming probiotic foods or taking supplements can help improve the balance of gut bacteria and prevent constipation. Probiotic-rich foods include yoghurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
  • Lubricants: Consuming natural lubricants like olive oil can help encourage stool to flow through the gut by acting as a lubricant in the digestive system.
  • Osmotic laxatives: Osmotic laxatives, such as magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia) and polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX), work by pulling water into the intestines to soften the stool and stimulate bowel movements.
  • Lemon juice: Drinking a glass of water mixed with the juice of half a lemon before bed and in the morning can help encourage bowel movements.
  • Exercise: Light exercises like walking, yoga, jogging, or swimming can encourage bowel movements by increasing blood flow throughout the abdomen.
  • Abdominal massage: Manually massaging the abdomen may help stimulate the bowels, especially if constipation is caused by the slow movement of stool through the colon.
  • Clear soups: Warm, clear soups can add moisture to stools, making them softer and easier to pass.
  • Avoid high-fat foods: Reducing high-fat foods can help relieve constipation as they are harder for the body to process.
  • Squat position: Adopting a squatting position on the toilet can align the rectum for easier bowel elimination.
  • Prunes and prune juice: Prunes and prune juice are traditional remedies for constipation. They contain sorbitol, which passes through the gut undigested, drawing water into the gut and stimulating a bowel movement.
  • Fibre supplements: If your diet is low in fibre, try taking a fibre supplement such as psyllium (Metamucil, Konsyl) or methylcellulose (Citrucel).
  • Stool softeners: Dehydration can cause hard stool. Stool softeners like docusate sodium (Colace) or docusate calcium (Surfak) can help by pulling water into the intestines and softening the stool.
  • Ginger: Ginger helps with constipation by reducing pressure on the lower intestines. It can also alleviate accompanying symptoms like cramping, bloating, and nausea.

It is important to note that if constipation persists despite trying these home remedies, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional for advice and further treatment options.

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When to seek medical advice for constipation

Laxatives can be a safe and effective way to relieve constipation in babies and young children. However, it is important to know when to seek medical advice, especially for babies under six months old.

Firstly, it is recommended to try home remedies such as dietary changes, exercise, and massage to relieve constipation. If these methods do not work, it may be time to consult a doctor.

Secondly, if a baby is showing signs of abdominal pain, such as pulling their legs up to their stomach and crying, this could indicate a more serious issue. If a baby is irritable and seems to be in pain, it is best to call a doctor.

Thirdly, if constipation is accompanied by vomiting and a bloated belly, this could be a sign of a blockage or more serious condition. In this case, seek medical advice immediately.

Another cause for concern is the presence of blood in a baby's stool. If this occurs, contact a healthcare professional right away.

Finally, if constipation does not improve with treatment, it may be a sign of an underlying condition. It is important to persist with home remedies and, if these do not work, to consult a doctor for advice on further treatment options.

In summary, while laxatives can be safe for babies and young children, it is always best to consult a doctor if constipation persists or is accompanied by other worrying symptoms.

Frequently asked questions

No, you should always check with a doctor or pharmacist before giving your baby laxatives.

Laxatives can make food pass through the intestines faster than usual, reducing the amount of nutrients absorbed into the body. They can also affect the way the body absorbs other medications. Overuse of laxatives can also lower the levels of salts in the blood.

Home remedies such as dietary changes, exercise, and massage may help relieve constipation in babies. Dietary changes include increasing fibre and water intake, and introducing solid foods.

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