Constipation in Babies

I’ve had the unfortunate time of having a constipated baby in the past, it wasn’t nice for either of us, more so for him. This led to me to do some intensive research into the subject for our baby health section to help other mums to find out the cause, to treat and prevent baby constipation in future.

What is constipation

Constipation refers to medical phenomena where you have difficulty passing stool. Everyone has experienced this before and it certainly something you will encounter in parenthood. Generally, this is a normal behavior and there is nothing to worry about. Still, having a better understanding of the factors that contribute to constipation as well as how to prevent it can help give you peace of mind.  Additionally, this is a great way for you to alleviate your child some discomfort and help prevent any medical problems that may arise from excessive constipation. Remember, if you ever have any real questions or concerns, consulting your child’s medical care provider is the safest option to getting the information you need. 

What causes constipation in babies?

Just like with any other aged child or adult, there are a number of reasons why your baby may be constipated. For babies, there is so much going on in their lives and their bodies that it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing it right away.

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Of course, the most common reason has to do with what is going into your baby’s tummy. A baby’s diet is the key reason behind their constipation. No, it isn’t because you are necessarily feeding them something wrong, but sometimes it just takes some time for their bodies to adjust. 

One such example is solid foods. When your baby starts solid food, you should really expect a little constipation. One of the biggest culprits is actually one of the most popular starter foods. Rice cereal is really low in fiber, so it doesn’t digest so easy. This doesn’t mean it is bad for the baby (as it is often a recommended starter food), but it may be behind your child’s digestive problems. 

Aside from foods, what they are drinking often has to do with their bowel movements as well. Dehydration can lead to constipation. Dehydration is often a problem many parents face when they attempt to wean the baby from breast milk. 

If the problem becomes consistent or you find that it is not the only issue your baby is facing, it may be a good idea to head to a doctor to check about an underlying medical problem. This is very rare though, so try not to overthink it. 

5 Signs that your baby might be constipated

  1. Passing less stools than normal: One of the clear signs is when looking at the frequency of bowel movements in your child. Although changes in bowel movements are to be expected, especially when a baby shifts to solid food, if your baby is going over a day without pooping than it is often a clear indication that they are constipated. 
  2. Consistency: When they do pass a bowel movement, if it happens to be less liquid than normal and more firm or even pelt-like, this is a sign of constipation. Again, this is something that is to be expected when they make that switch over from an all liquid diet, but if they are pretty stiff and in combination with other symptoms, they are likely constipated. 
  3. Signs of strain: Does your baby look like they really have to put a lot of effort into a bowel movement? Do they scrunch up their face or make any sort of grunting noises? Most babies only do this in response to having difficulties passing stool.
  4. Hard Tummy: You may even feel that the baby’s tummy is a little bit firmer than normal. This is due to being so backed up and unable to do anything about it. When it gets to this point, your baby is probably feeling some discomfort and it is something you should aim to avoid. This may also accompany changes in behavior. 
  5. Changes in appetite: When their belly is hard, it is usually associated with discomfort. If this continues without treatment, a baby may refuse food and drinks.

5 ways to treat a baby with constipation

  1. Exercise: Get your baby to move around a bit. Encourage as much activity as possibly for this makes it easily for your baby to pass poos. If they are crawling, try to get them to crawl a little extra. If they are not too mobile yet, you can do some leg pumps instead.
  2. Massage: Doing a tummy massage can also help everything pass along. Just gently rub your child’s belly right below their navel. Apply a light pressure on the lower, left side. You should be able to feel where there is a small mass. Once you find there gently massage it with three index fingers for about three minutes. 
  3. Change in formula: Baby’s that drink formula are actually more likely to experience constipation than baby’s that breastfeed. Talk to your doctor about maybe switching to a different formula brand. A small trick is to ass some dark corn syrup or prune juice to the formula. You can also add prune juice to breast milk.
  4. Change in food: If your baby is beyond formula, you can also try to give them foods that are higher in fiber. Solid foods offer you more variety of what you can feed your baby. This is even better when combines with a massage.
  5. Medication: If the constipation persists, talking to a doctor about getting your child a laxative or stool softener may be your best bet. Even before using over the counter medications, it is best to consult a doctor with an infant or toddler. 

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7 Tips to prevent baby constipation

  1. Avoid low fiber foods: Try to avoid excessively feeding a baby low fiber foods. Foods like rice or even bananas can actually contribute to constipation problems when they are not properly balanced out with other foods that are high enough in it. A balanced diet is a great thing for anyone, and these habits start young. 
  2. Find foods high in fiber: Foods like prunes and certain cereals are great ways to introduce this balance and healthy diet early in life. 
  3. Avoid dehydration: Make sure that your baby is getting enough fluids. Especially when they are making that big change to wean off of breast milk  or to start solid foods, getting an adequate amount of fluids can be difficult. Offering formula-fed babies water between feeds can help get them the additional fluids to not get more constipated.
  4. Encourage exercise: Just as exercise is a great way to treat already existing constipation, it can help prevent it! Leading an active lifestyle has a lot of benefits for a child, and reducing the risk for constipation is just one of them! 
  5. Teach potty posture: If your child is already using a big kid potty, make sure that they are sitting in the proper way. Using proper potty posture is a great way to avoid problems in the bathroom. Try to have them rest their feet flat on the floor in front of them if possible. If they are a little to sure, invest in a small step or stool for them to use.
  6. Get them comfortable: Sometimes, constipation can arise from the child getting anxious about using the bathroom. Going number 2 can be especially embarrassing for little kids, and you may be surprised to find that your child is shy about going in public places like school or their nursery. Let them know it is a perfectly normal thing to do and it is an unhealthy thing to just hold it in. Remaining calm is also important so that you do not accidently stress your kid out further about it. 
  7. Encourage a potty schedule: You may find that this is easier to avoid if your child follows a potty schedule. Conditioning them to go at certain times can teach them to better control themselves as well as help them get into a nice routine. You would not believe how well this can help control all kinds of accidents and make life better for the both of you in the long run. 

Summary 

Constipation in babies is generally nothing to be too worried about. It is something to be expected, especially during some critical points in your child growing up. Although usually not a big deal, it can make for things to get a bit uncomfortable. Avoiding excessive constipation is generally a good idea.

Many things you do to avoid constipation is just to encourage a healthy and balanced life style. A good diet, plenty of water, and exercise are a great way to get that going. Trying to develop good bathroom habits, a routine, and a healthy attitude about their bodily functions is also a great way to start them off in a nice, balanced life. 

The biggest thing for you to do is try not to get so stressed out. Parenthood is hard, and sometimes small things like this seem so scary. If you really think like you have some need for concern or your child is exhibiting some other worrisome symptoms, you can always feel free to contact your doctor for some advice on what actions you should take. 

Kate Richardson

Kate is a mum of three - two boys (11 and 5) and one girl (3) and has been a contributor with Best For Mums for a number of years now starting off as a moderator on the Facebook group. Kate is an English teacher from Huddersfield by day and a Yoga instructor by night. You can get in touch with Kate by emailing kate@bestformums.co.uk.

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