What is constipation?

Talking poop takes on a whole new meaning when you’re a parent. Constipation actually refers to the compactness of your baby’s stools and the difficulty he or she has passing them, not the frequency of the bowel movements. Poop is a sure sign that your baby is getting enough to eat, and is healthy and happy.

It’s understandable to be concerned if you think your baby isn’t regular, and many parents think a long period of time without a bowel movement means their baby is constipated. Yes, this can be a sign, but it’s not the only one. Remember: the consistency and number of stools vary according to age and from baby to baby. Newborns have several stools a day that are soft and the consistency of seedy mustard, particularly if they are breastfed. Formula-fed babies usually have fewer, firmer and darker stools. Some babies will poop after every meal, and some may only poop once a week!

As you start to introduce solid foods into your baby’s diet, you’ll probably see another change in his or her bowel movements. Stools become more formed and less frequent. Some babies may have a bowel movement without difficulty once every three days, but daily is typically preferable.

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What are the signs and symptoms of constipation?

As adults, we know when we’re constipated (right?). But do you have a constipated baby? Look for the signs:

  • In a newborn, he or she has firm stools fewer than once a day, with straining and difficulty passing them
  • Dry, hard stools and pain on passing them
  • Hard, pebble-like stools passed by a baby who strains during a bowel movement, drawing his or her legs up on the abdomen, grunting and getting red-faced
  • Streaks of blood along the outside of the stool
  • Abdominal discomfort along with hard, infrequent stools

So, what’s “normal”? Every baby is different, but here’s a guide from the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition:

What causes constipation?

Basically, for a soft poop to form, enough water needs to remain in the waste material itself, and the lower intestinal and rectal muscles need to contract and relax to move the stool along and out. Too little water or poor muscle movement can cause constipation. Constipation itself can be a self-perpetuating problem – if it hurts to poop, a baby may hold it for a longer time. The longer he or she holds it, the harder it becomes, which makes it even more painful to pass … and the longer the stool stretches the intestines, the weaker the muscle tone becomes. And to make it even more complicated, passing a hard stool through a narrow rectum sometimes tears the rectal wall (ouch!), which creates the streaks of blood sometimes seen. All this works against your baby, making him or her really not want to have a bowel movement!

What causes constipation in babies?

  • New foods or milks can trigger constipation, so if your baby has recently started eating something new or different, switched from breast milk to formula or formula to cow’s milk, that can cause it. If you think any of these are the culprit, go back to a looser-stool diet.
  • For bottle-fed babies, it may help to try different formulas to find the one that encourages stools. It may also help to give your formula-fed baby an extra bottle of water a day, but check with your doctor first.

What causes constipation in children?

  • He or she may know they have to go to the bathroom, but might ignore the urge because they are busy playing, they’re uncomfortable, etc. But the longer he or she holds it in, the more he or she may become constipated.
  • If your toddler is going through a negative phase or an emotional upset, that may cause a reluctance to have a bowel movement. Distress can affect intestinal functions and can show up as either diarrhea or constipation.
  • Is your child drinking enough water or fluids? You may want to consider giving him or her an extra two or three glasses of water or diluted juice a day.
  • Incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet may address any lack of fiber issues that can contribute to constipation.

Treatment Options

Now that we’ve talked about the “what” and “why,” let’s talk about the “how” – how to treat it! What are some constipation remedies for infants?

Constipation in Infants Under a Year

Babies who are under one year old need extra special attention when it comes to constipation, which means your doctor should always be consulted before starting any treatments.

  • If you’re formula feeding, try different kinds of formula to find one that seems to work the best for your baby.
  • Feed your baby smaller amounts of formula more often, since this gives his or her intestines a chance to properly digest. Think of this: feed half as much, twice as often.
  • Try a natural baby product to see if that gets things moving. Wellements Baby Move is not only all-natural and specifically created for infants, but it also has prebiotics that can help soften stool and aid digestion.
  • Put off introducing solid foods, particularly foods that can promote constipation like rice and bananas. Instead, start with high-fiber foods like pureed pears and prunes.
  • Help keep things moving with glycerin suppositories or liquid glycerin. As soon as your baby starts to grunt or grimace, looks bloated or shows signs of straining, (very) quickly insert a glycerin suppository to ease the poop on out.
  • Add a teaspoon of flax oil once a day, mixed into your baby’s cereal or bottle.

More Tips to Help Your Child’s Constipation Move Along

  1. Hydration is key! If your baby isn’t well-hydrated, his or her colon will steal water from their waste material and give it to their body, causing the poop to be harder. More fluids in his or her diet put more fluids in the bowels, lessening the chance for constipation.
  2. Add more fiber. It softens the stools by drawing water into them, making them bulkier and easier to pass. Fiber-filled foods for older babies include bran cereals, graham crackers, whole-grain breads and crackers, and vegetables like peas, broccoli and beans.
  3. Get a move on – Move your baby’s legs in a bicycle motion. Exercise improves digestion and helps food pass faster through the intestines.
  4. Try suppositories. Available without a prescription from your local pharmacy, these look like fun little rocket ships – think of them as helping to “rocket” the poop along. If your baby is really straining, insert one as far into the rectum as you can and hold your baby’s bum cheeks together for a bit to help dissolve the glycerin. These are especially helpful if your baby has a rectal tear or bleeding, but don’t use them without your doctor’s approval.
  5. Try a natural option. Wellements Baby Move formula is made with organic prune juice concentrate and prebiotics … and that’s it! Mix it with water or juice and expect to see some action shortly thereafter. Prunes have a natural laxative effect and are completely safe for your baby or child. Other natural options include apricots, prunes, pears, plums and peaches (the four “p’s”) or psyllium husks, which are an all-natural stool softener available at health food stores. Psyllium is also available over the counter as Metamucil.
  6. Get some nonprescription laxatives. Before you try this option, make sure to talk to your pediatrician to see which they recommend. Maltsupex, Metamucil, flax oil, flax seed meal, or juicing can all be good natural laxatives to help with constipation.
  7. Relax with a warm bath. There’s nothing like a warm bath to soothe your baby! Once the tub is filled about chest-high, try massaging your baby’s tummy. If this works for you, just be prepared for it to get messy!
  8. As a last resort, use an enema. If all else fails to get the poop moving in your toddler, try Fleet Babylax. It’s available without a prescription, but check with your doctor first.

In terms of constipation, just remember … this, too, shall pass! (No pun intended.)

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical care for the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of your child’s condition. Please consult your child’s doctor before trying any medication or following any treatment plan stated on this site.