I know all too well the challenge that constipation can cause for your little one! It was only recently that I was clearing some phone storage that I stumbled across a gallery of images of my daughter’s dirty nappies. I literally spent the first year of motherhood tracking and taking pictures of them, because of the tummy issues she had since birth.
What we experienced was probably at the more extreme end of the tummy issue spectrum. What started off as discomfort and a lot of wind pain as a baby (I can still see her little face in agony as she would pull her knees up to her chest!), then progressed to mucusy, green nappies and eventually blood in her stools. This was the start of our dairy allergy journey and one that would lead us into the toddler years.
In the early days, constipation wasn’t an issue for us at all. In fact, we were at the other end of the spectrum with the poo explosions and her green, mucousy nappies. She was a breastfed baby after all!
*Now I must mention, that green, mucousy nappies aren’t always a sign of something more sinister. It can be typical of a baby that is getting too much of the sugary foremilk and not enough of the lovely, fatty hindmilk.
After a year or so of seeing an allergy specialist, and eliminating dairy (and on one occasion soy) she started to build up a tolerance again and we were able to reintroduce dairy into her diet.
It wasn’t until after this, that we went through a period of constipation. My suspicions told me this was a result of her earlier dairy allergies but I also knew that a balanced diet and drinking water was also important. It isn’t always easy to stay in control of a toddlers diet, especially when they spend the week in daycare and go through fussy periods at home. For anyone that has been through the toddler years, you would have experienced periods where carbs and fruit become the preferred staple diet – and sometimes you just don’t have the energy to fight it!
When we were going through toilet training, the constipation issues clearly became an issue. There was a lot of bloating, straining and eventually, a fear of doing poo’s in the toilet. We ended up on a child laxative for some time before it eventually balanced itself out again and we were back to normal. I truly believe this was a result of getting a balanced diet in place and the fact that her tummy had matured.
You can understand why new mums have this weird obsession with anything feeding and nappy related. It’s all we are asked about, talk about and worry about (in addition to sleep of course!)
So if you are reading this because you have concerns about constipation, here is what you need to know.
Understanding your baby’s stools
The consistency of your babies stool depends on what they are being fed, and varies over time as solids are introduced into their diet (between 4 to 6 months of age). This is because your baby’s digestive system becomes more mature, handling each stage of their diet differently. Babies that are fed with breast milk tend to have runny stools to begin with, but you should notice them getting firmer and less frequent over time. Babies who are fed formula tend to have slightly firmer stools than breastfed babies, and fewer bowel movements. Be sure to double check that your milk formula is made with the correct water to formula ratio, as it may be that you simply aren’t putting enough liquid in their bottle.
What causes constipation?
The most common cause for constipation in babies is not getting enough fluid in their diet. Although it can still happen, constipation is quite rare in a baby who is only fed with breast milk, as this is much more easily absorbed and digested.
The signs to look out for
- Hard and dry, or crumbly stool that looks like small pebbles.
- Crying and discomfort, or irritability before passing stool
- A hard belly
- Dry, hard, pellet-like stool
- Loss of appetite
- Fewer than 3 bowel movements per week
- Foul smelling wind
- If your baby has experienced an extremely hard stool, it can sometimes cause a small tear to form around your baby’s bottom. These little tears can bleed and cause your baby further pain and discomfort. If this is the case, they may instinctively hold on, so the remaining stool becomes more difficult to push out.
Oddly enough, and something that is not often recognised – very liquid stools can also be a sign of constipation. This is because liquid poo can slip past the blockage of the stool that is stuck in the lower intestine. If you think your baby’s bowel movements are very runny, don’t just assume this is diarrhoea, and be sure to have your baby checked.
Here are a few ways to get their digestive system working
Try massaging your baby’s belly. Measure three finger-widths below your baby’s navel on the lower left side, and gently press until you feel firmness or mass. Be sure to be gentle, and stop if your baby is uncomfortable, but try to maintain a constant pressure for up to three minutes.
You can also try gently moving your baby’s legs in a bicycling motion to help move the hard stool along their intestine.
If your baby is at least 4 weeks old, it is safe to add a splash (around 30 mls) of prune juice into their breastmilk or formula to aid their digestive system. Prunes are high in fiber, and act as a form of laxative due to their sorbitol content. We would always recommend seeking advice of a medical professional before offering anything to ingest in younger babies.
Monitor their diet
If your baby has transitioned to solids, try cutting down on constipating foods such as rice, bananas and cereal – also keep an eye on dairy products such as yoghurt. Fibre is your friend, anything containing bran (high in fibre content) is a great option for loosening your little one’s stool.
When to see a doctor
If you are concerned at any point, or your baby is under 6 weeks old and you think they are having trouble with constipation, then you will need your doctor to determine the underlying condition. In most cases your child’s constipation will resolve on its own, however, if it doesn’t your doctor will be able to determine any indications of a more significant problem that may require further medical treatment.
Keep in mind, constipation can also be caused by a milk-protein allergy or intolerance.
If your baby has any of the following signs, see a doctor immediately:
- Blood in their stool
- Vomit that contains bile (green) or blood
Try not to worry too much if your baby becomes constipated. It’s likely to happen every now and again, just as it does with adults. Constipation is especially likely if your baby is formula-fed, or eating solids. With your attention and further treatment, if necessary, they will soon be back to their regular bowel movements once again.