Constipation in Babies

Since time began, parents have worried about their baby’s pooing habits. The smallest change from their usual elimination routine can add to an already long list of things to be concerned about.

But fret not. There’s a lot to learn about constipation, what can be done, and importantly, when it is reasonable to become anxious. Bear in mind that constipation is very rarely a cause for medical concern. Most often, constipation only causes the baby temporary discomfort which is quickly forgotten once they have pooed. And importantly, provides immediate relief to anxious parents.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is about how firm poos are, not about the frequency they are passed. Every baby has their own individual bowel habits and many factors influence pooing. Diet, fluid intake, movement, sleeping habits and general behaviour all play a role when it comes to pooing.

Babies do not need to have a poo everyday to stay healthy. In fact, many babies don’t poo for several days, especially breastfed babies who may not poo for a week or more. Some days, babies poo more often. Some seem to ‘hold on’ for a few days and then have several poos within a few hours. There is no one ‘right’ pattern when it comes to pooing behaviour. 

It’s normal for poos to be firmer when they first come out, and then become more pasty and soft.  Sometimes babies strain when they first start pooing, but relax once they’ve passed the initial poo with a firmer consistency.  

Poos can also vary in colour from bright yellow to dark, khaki green. Knowing what to expect and what’s a little more unusual can help parents to understand what’s going on with their baby’s gut.  

Breastfed and formula fed babies have different bowel habits.  Breastfed poos tend to be softer, more yellow and runny.  Formula fed babies have firmer poos which have a stronger smell. Comparing the two is rarely useful, as is comparing individual babies.  

What Do I Need to Know About Baby Constipation?

Remember, constipation refers to the consistency of bowel motions, not the frequency. So even if your baby hasn’t pooed for a couple of days, this isn’t necessarily a sign that they are constipated.

  • Pooing infrequently is not always a sign of constipation and may just reflect an individual baby’s bowel pattern.
  • All babies are unique and their bowel habits are not exempt from differences. Some babies have looser poos and others more firm.
  • Changes in feeding, routine and general behaviour can influence the frequency of bowel motions.
  • Baby poos often bear a resemblance to what the baby has eaten. Food begins its digestion in the mouth and goes through a series of changes until most of the nutrients have been extracted. Whatever food isn’t used by the body becomes waste.
  • Babies who eat a lot tend to poo a lot. That’s just the way it is.

How Would I Know If My Baby Is Constipated?

  • If there is a change from the frequency of their normal bowel habits.
  • If they are straining, going red in the face, becoming distressed and appear to want to poo but nothing is happening.
  • If they pass dry, hard pebbles rather than soft poos.
  • If their tummy is hard and distended (bloated).
  • If there is a change in your baby’s feeding. Some babies don’t want to feed as much or as frequently if their tummy already feels full.

What’s Going On With You?

Many babies grunt, groan and make a lot of noise when they’re pooing. They strain, go red in the face and make noises which suggest they’re really struggling to fill their nappy. However, all that noise doesn’t necessarily mean they’re constipated.  Some babies just use a lot of energy trying to pass a bowel motion, and when they do the result is completely normal.

Some babies don’t make any outward signs when they need to poo. The first indication can be a rather distinctive smell coming from their nappy area.

Although difficult at times, it’s important for parents not to show any outward signs of displeasure when changing their baby’s dirty nappy. It’s healthy for children to learn that pooing is a normal process and early messages help build positivity. Nappy changing is one of the many parenting skills which build over time, and with repeated practice and exposure the process becomes easier. 

There was undoubtedly a time when you would never have entertained the idea of wanting to know so much about baby poo.

Always speak and check with a qualified nurse or healthcare professional about your baby to understand what your baby’s individual needs are.