Constipation in babies
If you are a parent, you probably watch your baby’s every laugh, hiccup, and cry for clues about their well-being. Some signs of a problem, though, can be a little more difficult to detect.
Bowel movements, for example, will change alot over the course of your baby’s life. From time to time those changes may provide a sign that your baby is constipated.
A baby who exclusively consumes breast milk may not have a bowel movement every day. Often, nearly all of the nutrients are absorbed. This is very common. In fact, babies who take only breast milk almost never become constipated.
Formula-fed babies, on the other hand, may have up to three or four bowel movements in a day, or have a bowel movement every few days.
Still, normal bowel movement patterns inhealthy babies vary widely and are greatly affected by type of milk, whether solids have been introduced, and what specific foods are being consumed.
Understanding the possible signs of constipation can help you detect a potential issue before it becomes a big problem.
Infrequent bowel movements
The number of bowel movements a child has each day will fluctuate, especially as you introduce them to new foods. If your child goes more than a few days without a bowel movement, and then has a hard stool, they may be experiencing constipation.
Constipation is defined not just by the frequency of bowel movements, but also by their consistency (i.e., they’re hard).
If your child is straining while making abowel movement, this may be a sign of constipation. Constipated babies often produce very hard, clay-like stools.
Hard stools can be difficult to pass, so theymay push or strain more than usual to pass the waste. They may also be fussy and cry when having a bowel movement.
Blood in the stool
If you notice streaks of bright red blood on your child’s stool, it’s likely a sign that your child is pushing very hard to have a bowel movement. Pushing and straining or passing a hard stool may causetiny tears around the anal walls, which can result in blood in the stool.
A taut tummy could be a sign of constipation. Bloating and pressure caused by constipation may make your child’s stomach feelfull or stiff.
Refusing to eat
Your baby may feel full quickly if they are constipated. They may also refuse to eat because of growing discomfort.
If you notice signs of constipation, you can try several strategies to offer your baby relief. These include:
Switch up the milk
If your baby is breastfed, you can try adjusting your diet. Your baby may be sensitive to something you’re eating, which could be causing the constipation, though this is uncommon.
Bottle-fed babies may benefit from a different type of formula, at least until the constipation clears. Sensitivity to certain ingredients can cause constipation.
Use solid foods
Some solid foods can cause constipation, but others can also improve it. If you recently started feeding your baby solid foods, try adding a few high-fiber foods, such as:
- skinless apples
Instead of refined cereal or puffed rice, offer cooked grains, such as barley, oats, or quinoa. Whole-grain breads, crackers, and bran cereals also add a lot of bulk to stool, which may help clear the constipation.
Use pureed foods
If your baby is over six months and has not made the transition to solid foods yet, try some of the foods listed above in their pureed form.
Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables have a lot of natural fiber that will add bulk to your child’s stool. Some are better than others at helping stimulate a bowel movement.
Up the fluids
Proper hydration is essential for regular bowel movements. Water and milk are great for keeping your baby hydrated.
For babies over 6 months, occasional prune or pear juice may help speed up your child’s colon contractions, which may help your baby produce a bowel movement more quickly.
If the juice is too sweet or tangy for your baby’s palate, try diluting it in a cup of water. Talk to your doctor before giving your baby under 6 months anything besides breast milk or formula.
Movement speeds up digestion, which can help move things through the body more quickly. If your child isn’t walking yet, leg bicycles may be helpful.
Gentle stomach and lower-abdomen massages may stimulate the bowels to pass a bowel movement. Do several massages throughout the day, until your child has a bowel movement.
Switching up things in your child’s diet (or your own) will almost certainly help, but if it doesn’t, there are other techniques you can use.
Many of these techniques you can do at home, but if you have not used them before, you should consult your doctor. They will want to offer you specific instructions.
These techniques include:
If your baby previously has had signs of an anal tear (bright red blood in the stool) after passing a hard stool, a glycerin suppository may occasionally be helpful for easing a bowel movement out of the body.
These suppositories can be purchased over the counter and used at home. Follow the instructions on the package if your child is over 2 years old or ask your doctor before using if your child is under 2 years old.
Over-the-counter laxatives for babies over 6 months may be helpful when other techniques do not work.
Laxatives made from a malt-barley extract (Maltsupex) or psyllium powder (Metamucil) can soften your older child’s stool, but they are not recommended for babies. Talk to your doctor before giving any laxative to a baby under 1 year old.
If you are confused or concerned at any point, don’t hesitate to call your child’s pediatrician. In almost all cases, your child’s constipation will clear on its own or with a natural treatment or two.
If those strategies don’t work, asking your doctor for advice or suggestions will be helpful. Your doctor will also be able to help you spot other signs and symptoms (such as fever) that could be an indication of a larger problem that may require medical treatment.
Parents also worry that their babies are not pooping enough. A baby eating formula usually has a bowel movement at least once most days, but may go 1 to 2 days between bowel movements. For breastfed infants it depends on age. During the first month of life, stooling less than once a day might mean your newborn isn’t eating enough. However, breastfed infants may go several days or even a week between bowel movements, using every drop they eat to make more baby, not poop.
Infants normally work really hard to have a bowel movement, so straining at the stool isn’t necessarily alarming, even when the infant cries or gets red in the face. For an infant to have a bowel movement can be a major effort, and it shows. Just imagine trying to poop lying on your back and you’ll get the picture.
For constipation concerns, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my baby excessively fussy?
- Is my baby spitting up more than usual?
- Is my baby having dramatically more or fewer bowel movements than before?
- Are my baby’s stools unusually hard, or do they contain blood related to hard stools?
- Does my baby strain for more than 10 minutes without success?
These signs can all suggest actual constipation.
What parents can do:
After the first month of life, if you think your baby is constipated, you can try giving him or her a little apple or pear juice. The sugars in these fruit juices aren’t digested very well, so they draw fluid into the intestines and help loosen stool. As a rule of thumb, you can give 1 ounce a day for every month of life up to about 4 months (a 3-month-old baby would get 3 ounces). Some doctors recommend using corn syrup like Karo, usually around 1 to 2 teaspoons per day, to soften the stools. Once your infant is taking solids you can try vegetables and fruits, especially that old standby, prunes. If these dietary changes don’t help, it’s time to call your child’s pediatrician.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org:
- Baby’s First Days: Bowel Movements & Urination
- Common Conditions in Newborns
- Choosing a Formula
- Constipation in Children