Helping My Constipated Baby

It can be hard to know what to do when our babies become constipated. And it seems everyone is a subject expert when it comes to matters relating to poo.

Most people are generous and willing to offer suggestions about what could be helpful. The truth is though, most parents have a pretty good understanding of what they can do, and have tried all the usual strategies to relieve their baby’s constipation.  

What is Constipation?

Constipation is the passing of dry, hard, pebbly poos. It’s about the consistency of the bowel motions not the frequency.

Although your baby may only poo once every few days as long as their poo is soft and pasty, they’re not constipated.

First Things First

It’s important to be sure your baby is constipated before making any changes or trying things which may not be necessary.

Ask Yourself:

  • Does my baby seem happy and comfortable?
  • Are there changes in the consistency of their poos?
  • Are their poos hard, dry and pebbly?
  • Have there been changes in the frequency of their poos?
  • Is their tummy hard and bloated?

Why Does My Baby Carry On So Much When They’re Pooing?

These are some of the reasons why babies strain so much when they’re pooing:

  • They don’t have the benefit of gravity, as we do, to help them. Lying on their back and trying to poo doesn’t help, especially when their poo is a little firm.
  • Sometimes the poo is so soft it doesn’t put much pressure on their anus. This means that passing a softer poo isn’t as easy as one with a bit more texture.
  • Some babies take a little longer to learn what’s involved in pooing. 

What Causes Constipation?

There can be a variety of reasons why babies become constipated. The most common causes are insufficient milk intake or illness. One of the functions of the large bowel is to reabsorb water from the poo which is waiting to be passed. If the poos sits for longer than necessary, or the baby has not had enough fluid to drink, the poo becomes dry, crumbly and hard. 

Some babies have a naturally slow gut. This means they take longer to digest milk and food so they don’t poo as frequently.

A diet which is high in refined or processed foods can cause constipation. An insufficient intake of fibre and water to ‘bulk’ up their poos can also lead to constipation.

Other Reasons for Constipation

  • Individual variation. Some babies just seem to have a more sluggish digestion and gut movement than others.
  • Illness or dehydration. Gastroenteritis and vomiting leads to fluid loss so the poos are not as moist and soft to pass.
  • A diet which is very high in milk and insufficient solid food can cause problems. Milk alone beyond six months is not enough to support a baby’s growth.
  • Changing formula or when introducing solid foods for the first time can often lead to constipation.

How Can I Help My Constipated Baby?

  1. Give your baby some time with their nappy off each day. Being able to kick freely while not constrained can be helpful.
  2. Gently massage your baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction.
  3. Give them a deep, warm bath and let them move around freely whilst you hold them securely.
  4. Bicycle your baby’s legs.
  5. Lay your baby on their change mat and flex and extend their legs. Pushing their legs gently up onto their chest can help to relieve feelings of discomfort.
  6. Avoid becoming too obsessed about your baby’s bowel motions. As long as they are still feeding well, appear happy and aren’t bothered by their pooing habits, then try not to be either. Follow their lead and try to stay calm.

What Are the Best Foods for Constipated Babies?

If your baby is breastfed, offer them extra feeds. Top-up breastfeeds are a good option for increasing milk intake. If they are bottle fed, an extra feed or some cooled boiled water between feeds may help.

If you are breastfeeding, increase your own intake of fibre rich foods. Sometimes there is a flow-on effect to the baby. You may also like to try increasing your baby's intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. If they are too young for solids, extra milk feeds will help. If they are not too young for solids, offer pureed carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato and broccoli. Avoid offering too many white or processed foods such as pasta, bread, rice and potatoes. 

What Not To Do For Your Constipated Baby

  • Give laxatives, suppositories or enemas unless you’ve been advised to do so by a health professional.
  • Sit them on the toilet or a potty believing this will help. Toilet training is a developmental stage in the toddler years and requires a complex sequence of nervous system maturity.
  • Compare their bowel habits with other babies. Every little person is an individual and there are too many factors which play a role in bowel habits and frequency.
  • Make too many changes to their milk or solid food intake. Lots of changes at one time can have a negative effect and the baby may start having very loose poos.
  • Massage their tummy very firmly. A baby’s gut is still immature and easily damaged through rough handling.  Always be gentle.

When to See a Doctor

  • If your baby is in obvious discomfort or pain.
  • If they have not pooed for a week or more.
  • If there is blood on their nappy or in their poo.

Remember

Speak with your Child Health Nurse or doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s bowel habits.  See your doctor if simple dietary changes aren’t helping or if your baby is distressed.