You wouldn't wish the discomfort of constipation on your worst enemy, but you particularly hate to see your baby straining and pushing. You can buy Gerber prune juice for babies for a form of relief, but that doesn't necessarily make the beverage safe for a newborn.
Prune juice contains sorbitol, which may help with constipation. However, fruit juices should not be given to children under 12 months old without the recommendation of a pediatrician.
Signs of Digestive Problems in Infants
First things first: What might seem like constipation may just be the normal pushing of a tiny body still learning how to poop. Babies less than 2 months old often strain, push, grunt or even cry and get red in the face when making a bowel movement. If these efforts are followed by a soft stool in the diaper, constipation isn't a concern. While breast-fed newborns tend to pass stool daily, as they age, they may go a week without a bowel movement—and it's all totally normal.
However, babies can become constipated. Symptoms of constipation in infants to look out for include:
While constipation in infants 2 months old or younger is quite rare, it can happen in response to a switch in diet — from breast milk to formula, for example — or as a result of dehydration, disease or other distress. One of the main causes, according to a 2015 article published in Childhood Obesity and Nutrition, is pain. Simply put, when it hurts to poop, kids avoid doing it.
How Prune Juice Works
Prune juice for babies covers all three of the "3Fs" of constipation treatment — that is, fruit, fiber and fluid — as described in a 2014 article in the journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. Because constipation is caused by a lack of fluid in the colon, all water-based liquids can help. Fiber also works to speed things along in the colon. Finally, fruits contain sorbitol, a type of sugar alcohol. This sweet molecule not only retains water, it also ferments in the colon to create acetic acid and short-chain fatty acids, which further aid in colon mobility, according to the 2013 American Gastroenterological Association Technical Review on Constipation.
Because of the three Fs, fruit juices like prune juice can cause diarrhea. Too much water-absorbing fiber or water-retaining sorbitol and an abundance of colon-mobilizing fatty acids can flood the bowel and quickly turn to watery stool. In infants, there is the added concern that their desire for the breast or bottle could be replaced by cravings for sugary juice, which contains few of a baby's required nutrients.
Read more: How Prune Juice Can Cause Diarrhea
When to Use Prune Juice for Babies
The 2017 recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition say that infants less than 12 months old should not be given juice of any kind, including prune or apple juice, without first visiting a pediatrician who can advise on how to treat constipation.
Once you have introduced solid foods into your child's diet, however, you can offer high-fiber purées, such as beans, spinach, peaches, and plums or rehydrated prunes, along with a few sips of water. Children 1 year or older can be given small amounts of whole fruit juice each day in two 2- to 4-ounce servings of prune juice or apple juice as part of a healthy meal or snack.
- MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: "Constipation in Infants and Children"
- Childhood Obesity and Nutrition: "Pooping Shouldn’t Be This Hard — Using Nutrition to Address Constipation in Primary Care"
- Pediatrics: "Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents — Current Recommendations"
- Gastroenterology: "American Gastroenterological Association Technical Review on Constipation"
- Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition: "Diets for Constipation"
- University of Utah Health: "Helping Your Newborn Get Through Painful Pooping"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Sorbitol"
- Pediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics: "Functional constipation in children — challenges and solutions"