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What to do if your baby is constipated?

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Created on Sep 27, 2023 · 5 mins read

Seeing your little one in pain or discomfort is never easy, especially when they complain of not being able to go to the bathroom properly. If they’re toilet training, it’s even harder. But constipation in babies is normal, in fact it happens to most babies. From young infants to older babies, no matter the child’s age.


Baby constipation often happens due to dietary changes, like changing from baby food to solid foods or having low fibre foods. There are also loads of things you can do to help them go back to pooping like normal and relieve constipation. Having a healthy diet that encourages bowel movement (like eating solid foods), being active, drinking water, and a few other ways can prevent constipation in babies.

What is constipation?


Constipation is the infrequent passing of poo with pain and discomfort, usually with hard and dry stools. Baby constipation isn’t a question of how often your child is going to the bathroom, but more if they are unable to pass bowel movement and when they do they have dry or hard stools.


Signs of constipation


  1. Hard poo, or stools that are small and pellet-like
  2. Distended abdomen (a hard and bloated belly), even thought they’re not gaining weight
  3. Painful bowel movements could be other signs of constipation in children. Your baby might be groaning, crying or moaning, or even crossing legs and squirming.
  4. Less frequent bowel movements in your baby, even if you get them to sit on the toilet.
  5. Decreased appetite in your baby

These things differ from baby to baby, so there may be other symptoms too. Trust your gut and check in with your child’s health care provider if you need.


Reasons for constipation in babies


  1. Not drinking enough water – this is the classic first point of call for this stuff. Making sure that your baby is super hydrated will just help everything flow a whole lot better.
  2. Introducing solid foods instead of just baby foods can give a real system shake-up for your baby. Be mindful of giving them too much applesauce, cereal or banana, as these could be provoking your child’s constipation.
  3. Lack of fibre intake is also common for constipation in children, as fibre is key to healthy bowel movements.
  4. Pain from a possible tear near their anus making it hurt too much to use the bathroom
  5. Not getting enough exercise could be a factor, since movement and exercise actually help stimulate your baby’s digestive system.
  6. If your little one gets too busy playing and ignore the urge to go to the bathroom
  7. Fear or issue with bathrooms from the smell or lack of privacy could mean they’re holding it in instead.
  8. Formula fed babies are more likely to experience constipation than breastfed babies. Breast milk is easier to digest and has natural laxatives that keep your child’s poo liquid. Formula is thicker with larger proteins that can be difficult to digest, making infant formula feeds not as good for your baby’s bowel movement. But it’s not usually a leading cause.

How to treat constipation in babies at home


  1. If you’re little one is toilet trained, setting up a regular toilet routine will give them some structure and normalise bathroom time.
  2. Motivation and encouragement will make your baby want to go to the toilet regularly and improve constipation.
  3. Take them for a walk and start helping them to exercise more to stimulate the digestive system
  4. Get into some healthy bowel habits! Increase the fibre intake in your child’s diet with plenty of solid foods like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables (pears, apples and prunes are a good start).
  5. Increase how much water they drink (fruit juice can also help, so try pear juice or prune juice).
  6. Cut out foods that are known to increase baby constipation like bananas, milk and cheese. Or, for instance, feeding your baby barley cereal instead of rice cereal.
  7. A gentle tummy massage can encourage bowel movement in your little one, so it’s great for infant constipation.
  8. Giving your baby a warm bath will allow your little one’s muscles to relax and help pass stool, so it’s great at treating constipation.

All the above tips can also be used for preventing constipation in babies too.

When to call the doctor


If it looks like your little one might have chronic constipation, or they complain of significant pain, reach out to your child’s doctor. If it is serious, your baby’s health care provider may suggest the use of a laxative medications to relieve constipation or stool softeners or fibre supplements might also be recommended if the problem persists. There are more serious conditions such as functional constipation or hirschsprung disease, which require medical diagnosis. Always seek medical advice if you’re unsure.

Your little one will probably suffer from constipation from time to time, but it is easily treatable and very common. Constipation in children is pretty normal, so need to panic right away. If you can help treat constipation with the aforementioned tips, plus a lot of TLC, they’ll be right as rain in no time.

Sources

Rubin GP, 2003, ‘Childhood constipation’, American Family Physician, vol. 67, issue 5, pp.1041-1042. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2003/0301/p1041.html

Farrell M, Holmes G, Coldicutt P, Peak M, (2003), ‘Management of childhood constipation: parents’ experiences’, Issues and Innovations in Nursing Practice, Journal of Advanced Nursing. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14651696/

Xinias, I., & Mavroudi, A. (2015). Constipation in Childhood. An update on evaluation and management. Hippokratia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4574579/

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