When it comes to taking care of babies and infants, it’s easy to make a mountain out of every little molehill. But dealing with baby constipation is no small matter. It can be extremely painful for the baby and downright scary for all of the adults involved. Here are the best infant constipation remedies.
What does a healthy baby poop schedule look like?
All babies are different, and so are the patterns of their bowel movements. Babies’ poop schedules can vary depending on whether or not they’re breastfed, how hydrated they are and what makes up their diet. It can also depend on their level of activity and digestion speed. A general frame of reference is that babies between 0-4 months poop on average three to four times per day. After the introduction of solid foods into the diet, that number usually decreases to about once per day.
On average, babies between 0-4 months poop 3-4 times per day.
That said, it’s fairly common for breastfed babies to poop just once per week and for formula-fed babies to poop just once per day. It all depends on what’s normal for your baby.
Baby constipation is not when a baby makes straining faces, cries and has a soft bowel movement within an hour or two. So, what exactly are some signs of baby constipation and how can you be on the lookout for them?
How can you tell if a baby is constipated?
Consistency is key to identifying constipation in exclusively breastfed babies. The stool of a constipated baby that is exclusively breastfed will look like little clay balls instead of liquidy, seedy or pasty.
Here are a few signs that your baby may be constipated:
- Your baby is having less frequent bowel movements than usual, especially if it’s been three or more days since the last one. Remember, this depends on the baby’s unique typical poop schedule.
- Your baby shows obvious signs of discomfort, draws its legs up into the abdomen, or grunts and gets red-faced during bowel movements.
- Hard, dry, pebble-like stools that are difficult to pass — no matter the frequency.
- Streaks of blood on the outside of the stool.
- Your baby is arching their back, tightening their buttocks or crying during bowel movements.
- Your baby is making strained faces coupled with a firm belly that’s painful to the touch.
- In newborns, firm stools less than once per day with straining and difficulty passing them is a major sign that the baby is constipated.
Now that you know the signs, it’s important to know how to relieve baby constipation. There are many ways to treat constipation, from holistic home remedies to over-the-counter stool softeners and glycerin suppositories.
How a baby’s constipation is treated is a decision that should be made by the child’s parents, sometimes with the help of a pediatrician. But that doesn’t mean the baby’s parents will be there every time constipation strikes. Some of the best and most effective ways to relieve baby constipation are listed below, but it’s important to note that some require the clearance of a pediatrician.
Ways for parents and sitters to relieve and treat baby constipation:
- Help the baby get some exercise by pumping his or her legs in circular motions (baby bicycles).
- Massage the baby’s belly three-finger widths’ below his or her navel on the lower side, using firm but gentle pressure for about 3 minutes. Maximize the effects of the belly massage by feeding the baby some of the foods mentioned below that ease constipation.
- Consider switching brands of formula.
- Try adding ¼ tsp. dark corn syrup to 4 oz. of formula, increasing gradually if it doesn’t help but never giving the baby more than 1 tsp. corn syrup per 4 oz. of formula.
- Prune juice is a natural laxative. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies less than a year not be given juice unless there is a strong clinical indication in managing constipation. The study that informs the AAP’s recommendations can be read here. Note: For 100% juice products the AAP recommends daily intakes to not exceed 4oz. for children aged 1-3, 4-6oz. for ages 4-6, and 8oz. for 7 and older.
- Increase the baby’s intake of fiber-rich foods and cut down on constipating foods like rice, bananas and cooked carrots.
- Give the baby more water, more often. Many times infant constipation is caused by dehydration.
- If the baby’s stool is extra hard and dry, or if it causes a little blood or slight fissures around the child’s anus, apply aloe vera lotion and keep the area as clean and dry as possible. Definitely let the baby’s pediatrician and/or parents know about this.
- Rectal stimulation may be recommended, which involves dabbing some Vaseline on the end of a rectal thermometer and wiggling it in the baby’s bum. Rectal stimulation should only be attempted if recommended by a pediatrician first.
- As a last resort, laxatives, infant stool softeners and suppositories can be used, but only after the recommendation of a pediatrician because infants and babies can develop a dependency on them.
Why is my baby constipated in the first place?
There are four main reasons why babies can get constipated:
Formula: A milk-protein allergy or other allergy to the other protein compounds in certain brands of formula can cause constipation in infants. Breastfed babies tend to get constipated less frequently because of the balance of fat and protein in the mother’s milk.
Switching to solid food: When making the switch to solid foods, parents and sitters should be aware that the child’s stool frequency, form and color will change. It’s normal for babies to become slightly constipated during this time. One reason is that rice cereal is a common “first food” when switching to solids, and rice flour can cause constipation. Consider switching to another grain or choose plant-based options. Flax seed meal is a good natural laxative and can be substituted for rice flour.
Dehydration: Dehydration is a major cause of baby constipation, usually occurring when mothers switch from breastfeeding to formula or solid foods. Dehydration causes the body to absorb fluid from the bowels, resulting in hard, dry stools.
Illness or other medical conditions: Though rare, baby constipation can be caused by an underlying medical condition like Hirschsprung’s disease, hypothyroidism, botulism, cystic fibrosis, certain food allergies and metabolic disorders. To have your child screened for these conditions simply let your pediatrician know.
A few foods to help ease baby constipation
Foods to avoid
|Beans||Rice (rice cereal, rice flour)|
|Brussels sprouts||Peanut butter|
|Apple juice (only if clinically recommended under 1 year old)|
|Prune juice (only if clinically recommended under 1 year old)|
If your baby suffers from constipation, making your own homemade baby food can help. Homemade baby food is great to make ahead of time and have on-hand for sitters to prepare or for trips to daycare. It’s also a surefire way to know exactly what ingredients are going into your baby’s food and body.
The baby is constipated and I’m just the sitter…help!
Whether you’re a new parent or an experienced sitter, watching infants can be a lot of work. And decisions about a baby’s care should always be up to the parents. That said, there are a couple of things you can do as a sitter if you’re watching an infant that’s constipated. Just make sure you keep parents in the loop about any problems their baby might be having.
A little apple juice or prune juice for babies can be ok for children in small doses if they are over a year old (see AAP recommendations) or if there is a strong clinical suggestion to use it. Additionally, a teeny bit of brown sugar diluted in water can sometimes help a constipated infant or baby.
Sometimes babies get constipated for emotional reasons, too. Try snuggling with the baby to comfort and relax them. You may even get the baby to fall asleep or stay asleep longer. If that doesn’t work, see if the baby will lie on its belly. Sometimes all it takes to help move things along is a simple change in position.
No matter what, remember it is not the sitter’s place to give children medication. Make sure you leave that decision up to the parents.
When to call the doctor: I’ve tried everything and my baby is still constipated
There are a few times when it’s best to seek medical assistance for your constipated infant. If the baby isn’t eating, loses weight, has blood in its stool, or if basic treatments aren’t working, then it’s time to call your pediatrician.
If your baby is younger than 4 months old, call your pediatrician if there hasn’t been a bowel movement within 24 hours of when the infant usually goes. If constipation persists despite dietary changes or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting or rectal bleeding, contact your pediatrician immediately.
Do NOT give constipated babies laxatives or suppositories without consulting your pediatrician first. Do NOT use mineral oil, stimulant laxatives or enemas to treat infant constipation. Glycerin suppositories are meant for occasional use only and need to be cleared by a pediatrician first.