If constipation is present, and there is difficulty in passing hard, dry stools, laxatives may be used as a temporary measure to restore the normal bowel function.
However, the number of bowel actions a day (or week) can vary enormously. Bottle-fed babies will often go many days before having a bowel action. If these actions are soft and normal in consistency, baby is not necessarily constipated and does not need laxatives.
In hot weather, baby may lose an enormous amount of fluid. If this is not made up, either in the form of boiled water or milk, or other fluid-containing products, a child will soon become partially dehydrated, and constipation can ensue. The best way to get back to normal is to increase the fluid intake.
Therefore, water may be the best laxative or cure for apparent constipation. That’s right. Also it’s necessary to try to find out why bowel actions arc hard and dry and infrequent before resorting to laxatives. For example, if baby has a tear at the back entrance, there’s a tendency to “hold back” (because a bowel action hurts). The baby becomes constipated, not through any real fault of the bowel system, but merely because it’s more comfortable. Treating the tear is more important than rushing to the laxative bottle.
The doctor may prescribe a local anesthetic ointment to be applied.
Sometimes it is desirable to help nature along. The simple method of inserting a glycerin suppository into the back passage will often produce an effective bowel action from 15 to 45 minutes later. The suppository should be well covered with lanoline or petroleum jelly (and some added locally) to facilitate easy entry. Push gently, and avoid undue pressure that may produce discomfort. It is often necessary to hold the folds of the buttocks together for several minutes to check the suppository slipping out. The suppository dissolves, mixes with the hardened fecal mass, and this is all expelled in the form of a fairly normal bowel action.
The suppository, of course, is used once and once only. (Some mothers believe a suppository is pushed in and out a few times, wiped, and then returned to the bottle for future use! This sounds incredible, but it happens.)
In acute constipation, a simple enema may sometimes be needed. Experience is usually necessary for this, and a trained sister may have to do it. Very simple forms of enemas, commercially prepared, are available today that make this much easier to perform.
Often, adding products to the dietary intake will correct constipation problems. Adequate fluids between feeds can be curative. Increasing the sugar content of the milk may assist.
Prune juice and molasses are also advocated by some, and can be effective as baby gets older. Adding pureed fruits to the diet of older children may be effective (such as pureed prunes and plums). Commercial oral preparations are often used. Medical advice should be sought before any long-term use of these laxatives is started.