Once you become a parent you realise pretty quickly that baby poop – or lack of it – takes up a significant portion of your thoughts. Newborn constipation is quite rare in breastfed babies, however as they move on from a breast milk diet to solid foods, or if they are formula-fed, their digestive system can react and this can continue as they grow into toddlers – and beyond!
Understanding what causes constipation in infants and the symptoms to look out for can help you treat and relieve any pain, in most cases, without the need for medicine, laxatives or supplements. However in some cases, when you’ve tried everything else, treatment may be the only option to cure your baby’s constipation.
Understanding your baby’s poop
The consistency of your baby’s 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.
Just like us adults, how often a baby will pass a bowel movement will vary for every, and will also change as they grow and their digestive system matures. In the first six weeks, newborns can poop anywhere from every time they feed to just once a week. So looking for patterns and any pain or discomfort is key to understanding what is normal for your baby.
The signs and symptoms of constipation to look out for:
- Hard and dry, or crumbly stools that look 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
- Anal fissures (tiny tears in the skin around the anus) that can cause pain and bleeding
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.
What causes constipation?
The most common cause for constipation in babies is that they are 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.
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.
Newborn breastfed Vs formula-fed constipation
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.
Baby constipation remedies:
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 a firmness or mass. Be sure to be gentle, and stop if your baby is uncomfortable, but try to maintain 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.
2. Prune juice for baby
If your baby is at least 4 months old, it is safe to add a splash (around 30 mls) of prune juice into their breast milk 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 from a medical professional before offering anything to ingest in younger babies.
3. Monitor their diet
If your baby is not pooping after starting solids, try cutting down on known constipating foods such as rice, bananas and cereal – also keep an eye on dairy products such as yoghurt.
Fibre is your friend, so anything containing bran (high in fibre content) is a great option for loosening your little one’s stool.
Baby constipation: When to worry?
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 – and happy selves – once again.