Doctor Betti
Dr. Betti Hertzberg Ressler is a Board Certified Pediatrician on staff at Miami Children's Hospital. Dr. Hertzberg developed the toilet training video "Let's Go Potty." She is the co-author of "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies for Children."

Constipation in babies

Question: My 9 week old son has severe problems trying to open his bowels. He strains for about 5-6 hours, and eventually after a lot of pain and screaming, he passes very soft, and messy stools. He is fed formula milk, and also gets ample water and fruit juices, so what could be causing such discomfort with my sons passing of stools? He has recently been discharged from hospital for having a Kidney infection, and is currently on antibiotics, could these be the cause? - Ashley

Answer: Dear Ashley,
If your baby did not have any problems with having a bowel movement prior to being admitted to the hospital, it seems that there was some change in his routine. This may include a different environment, possibly a different schedule of feeding and most definitely the medications (antibiotics) that he received in the hospital. Antibiotics are wonderful drugs that cure many infections. They do have side effects which usually subside after they are finished. The digestive system seems to be most affected because bacteria which is normally found there is also reduced or wiped out along with the bacteria causing the infection. These wonderful drugs can't separate the two!

Kidney infections in a young child are appropriately treated with in-hospital antibiotics (I'm assuming intravenously), followed by oral antibiotics at home. Sometimes intravenous antibiotics are also given after the child leaves the hospital.

The straining may also be due to colic. The introduction of fruit juice and possibly other foods may be part of the problem. Water in addition to his normal milk feedings (not in place of) is good for kidney function and helps to maintain a normal stool pattern. You said ample fruit juices. Was that a little or a lot?

Fruit juice, especially apple juice, has a high natural sugar content which causes water to be drawn from the intestines. This in turn may cause cramping and colic. Parents should be reminded that when a child has stomach cramps or diarrhea, withhold the juices. They may make these symptoms worse.

Your son is also at the ripe age for developing "COLIC." This condition comes on suddenly with no apparent signs of other illness. Pediatricians and parents (and pediatrician parents)! are still looking for a good answer as to why it happens. Guessing, the immature digestive system has a major role. Allergy? Genetics? We're still looking for why it happens in some babies and not others. Statistically, first born male infants are affected more often.

By the time you read this, your son will have finished his antibiotics and hopefully, his BM's are back to normal. If not, please talk to your pediatrician.

Dr. Betti

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  • Ask Dr. Betti your questions

    This information is not intended to be a substitute for visiting your pediatrician. If you or your child has specific concerns, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.