When it comes to taking care of babies and infants, it’s easy to make a mountain out of every little molehill you come across. But dealing with baby constipation is no small matter. Infant constipation can be extremely painful for the baby and downright scary for all of the adults involved.
Baby Constipation: What It Is and What It’s Not
All babies are different and so is the individual pattern of their regular bowel movements. Babies’ poop schedules can vary greatly depending on whether or not they’re breastfed, how hydrated they are and what makes up their diet.
A baby’s individual pattern depends on the baby’s diet, level of activity and digestion speed. A general frame of reference is that babies between 0-4 months of age 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.
That being said, it is fairly common for exclusively breastfed babies to poop just once per week and for formula-fed babies to poop just once per day. It all depends on what is considered 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 to Spot Baby Constipation and Constipation in Infants
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.
- One major signal of baby constipation is that the 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 typical, individual poop schedule.
- If the baby is obviously uncomfortable, strains, 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.
- Constipated babies may arch their backs, tighten their buttocks or cry during bowel movements.
- If a baby is making strained faces coupled with a firm belly that’s painful to the touch, chances are the baby is constipated.
- 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 and how to spot constipation in infants and babies, it’s important to know how to relieve baby constipation. There are many ways to relieve baby constipation, from holistic home remedies for baby constipation 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. If the constipated baby is 4 weeks old or older, add a little prune juice (or pear, plum, peach, apricot or apple) to his formula or breast milk. Note: When treating infant constipation with juice, the infant should have no more than 1oz. of juice per day for every month of its life, maxing out at 4oz. for a 4-month-old. After 8 months, babies can have as much of 6oz. of juice per day to treat constipation.
- 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 and entails 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 final resort, laxatives, 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?
Once the initial scare is over and the baby’s feeling some relief, it’s time to get to the bottom of why the baby was 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 almost never get constipated because of the perfect 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 being that rice cereal is a major food used in the beginning of this process and rice flour can cause constipation. Consider switching to another grain or stop feeding the baby rice cereal. 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
As mentioned above, a baby’s diet plays a large part in whether or not they become constipated. That’s why it’s good to know which foods ease baby constipation and which foods cause it.
Constipation-Fighting Foods The key here is utilizing juices, fruits and vegetables with high fiber content.
- Brussels sprouts
- Pureed prunes
- Pureed apricots
- Pureed pears
- Pureed broccoli
- Pureed apples
- Pureed plums
- Apple juice
- Prune juice
Foods to Stay Away From These foods will only cause constipation in babies and infants and should be limited/monitored.
- Rice (rice cereal, rice flour)
- Peanut butter
- White bread
Homemade Baby Food Can Help Ease Constipation
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. Homemade baby food is 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 and babies can be a lot of work! Add the variable that the baby you’re watching isn’t yours and an otherwise apprehensive situation can turn into widespread panic.
Decisions having to do with a baby’s or infant’s care should always be up to the parents. That being said, there are a couple things that sitters can do if they’re watching a baby or infant that is constipated. However, always make sure you let the parents know about any problems their baby had when you see them.
A little apple juice, prune juice, or 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 him/her and 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 babies or infants OTC medications; best to 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 instances when it is 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 the constipated infant 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.