It’s not the frequency of bowel movements or straining that determines if a baby is constipated or not, it’s the consistency of the stool. A baby is constipated if his poop is firm, dry or pebbly. If his poop is fluid, soft or paste consistency, then he’s not constipated.
Crying while having a bowel movement, bleeding from the anus, abdominal pain and reduced appetite can also be signs a baby is constipated.
It is normal for some babies to have even just two passages of stools every week. It is also normal for some babies to grunt when releasing stools. What is not normal is when your baby is having hard and dry stools. That is definitely a sign of constipation.
What infant stools look like
When baby is breast fed
Consistency: Soft or runny.
Color: Yellow mustard to orange with little white flecks that look like seeds.
Frequency: Can vary from every feed to once per week.
When baby is formula fed
Consistency: Soft paste.
Color: Grayish green, yellow, tan or brown, depending on the type of formula.
Frequency: Every 1 to 2 days.
When baby is eating solid food
Consistency: Paste to formed stools. Often contains undigested food.
Color: Can vary depending on what is eaten.
Frequency: Can be less frequent – particularly for a breast fed baby.
Changes in frequency
It’s true that infant constipation can result in less frequent bowel movements than normal. However, a decrease in the number of times your baby poops doesn’t necessarily mean he’s constipated.
A change in diet e.g. switching formula or introducing new foods can result in changes in the amount and how often your baby will poop.
A decrease in the number of times a breast fed baby has a bowel movement is often noticeable around 4 weeks of age, as baby’s digestive system matures. Although a formula fed baby’s digestive system matures at the same rate, there may not be any noticeable change in the number of bowel movements a formula fed baby has at this age.
Why the frequency of stools change
A DECREASE in the number of times your baby poops DOESN'T necessarily mean he's constipated!
A DECREASE in the frequency of bowel motions is OFTEN noticeable around 4 weeks of age, particularly when a baby is breastfed. As your baby's digestive system matures his body is BETTER able to digest and absorb the many nutrients in milk (breast or formula) and as a result there in LESS waste (poop).
It is around this time that a mother's breast milk supply settles to meet her baby's needs, so this also results is less poop. (Nursing mother's often have an ABUNDANCE of breast milk during the early weeks of breastfeeding.)
A reduction in the number of of bowel motions of a formula fed baby may also be seen around this age. However, it generally LESS obvious than changes seen in fully breastfed infants.
OTHER TIMES where a change in the AMOUNT and HOW OFTEN a baby poops, may occur as a result of changes in diet. A sudden change in the frequency of bowel motions is COMMONLY seen when...
- A baby is switched from breast milk to formula.
- The type of formula is changed.
- A baby first starts to eat solid foods.
- The amount of solid foods is increased.
- When a baby is first introduced to regular cow's milk.
When to treat infant constipation
Most babies are not truly constipated unless they experience all of the following:
1.Firm, dry pebbly stools
2.No bowel movement for 2-3 days for formula fed babies or 7-10 days for breastfed babies, and
3.Strains and cries while having a bowel movement.
Unless your little one has a problem with all three, he’s probably not constipated and you needn't do anything. If your baby is constipated, treatment may be necessary. We suggest you start with the simple things first.
* It’s rare that a fully breast fed baby will become constipated prior to the commencement of solids. 7 or 10 days without a bowel movement can be very normal where baby is only offered breast milk. Breast milk is the perfect food for babies and very little is left to waste. Breast milk also has a natural laxative effect, that helps protect baby against constipation.
What makes constipation a problem is that it might cause painful scratches on the rectum. The newborn will have a hard time releasing stools when that happens. As someone who cares, you can do a lot of things to treat the newborn constipation. Below are some constipation treatments for newborns:
- Give the baby more water. Constipation is a sign of dehydration or insufficient amount of water in the body. Provide the baby with more water everyday. She should drink at least four ounces of water everyday. Add more ounces if this amount does not result to anything positive. Lessen the water if the stool becomes too watery.
- Give the baby fruit juices. Pear, prune, or apple juices help add more fiber for the baby. Fiber helps to digest the food better, which also helps in better bowel movement. Constipation is also a known sign of insufficient fiber intake. Almost all fruit juices can help but the mentioned above are the best and safest sources of fiber for babies.
- Change the baby’s diet to fibrous. If the baby is already eating, try to switch her diet to fibrous diets. Instead of the usual food she takes, try giving her pureed pears, barley cereals, and pureed prunes. Avoid giving the baby foods that might aggravate constipation like bananas or rice cereal.
- Apply lubricant on the baby’s anus. Prevent scratching during the passage of hard and dry stools by applying water-based lubricant on the anus. This should help for easier stool passage.
- Feed the baby more breast milk instead of formula. The mother’s milk contains safe and natural laxative for the baby. The stool will not be that hard and dry with some intake of breast milk.
- Change the baby formula. The baby’s formula can be a cause of the constipation. If she just changed her formula, better try to switch again and see if that will help.
- Give the baby a teaspoon of karo syrup. Besides being sweet, this syrup is also known for alleviating constipation. Your local pasty-making supply store or grocery probably has karo syrup in stock.
- Mix a teaspoon of flax oil to water, breast milk, or baby formula. This oil also helps alleviate constipation by softening the stools.
- Help the baby to exercise. Leg cycling helps in relaxing and massaging the stomach. This exercise also helps the stools to move easily
- Massage the baby’s stomach. Apply some baby oil on the baby’s tummy and start massaging it using gentle and circular motion. The abdomen massage helps for better digestion, which might treat constipation.
- Add some diluted magnesium into the baby’s water. Dilute about three drops of magnesium in a glass of water. Instead of plain water, use this mixture when giving the baby something to drink.
- Give the baby a special bath. Water level in the bath should cover the baby’s stomach. The lukewarm water relaxes the stomach. Gently massage the baby’s stomach as she relaxes in the bath.
Your newborn baby’s constipation should be relieved after a few days of trying any of the treatment tips above. If the baby’s condition worsens, then bring her to the pediatrician immediately. She might be suffering from a disease that is more than just constipation.
Why babies strain
Adults strain as a result of constipation, but this is not the only reason a baby will strain. If his poop is fluid or paste consistency, then he’s not constipated and there are other reasons for his straining.
It can be very alarming to see your young baby draw his little legs up and grunt and groan and go red in the face while tying to poop. However, this is very normal behavior for an infant particularly in the early weeks of life! Straining helps move the stool through his intestines.
Straining commonly occurs around 2 - 4 weeks of age, as baby becomes more aware of his body sensations. He strains as he’s learning to control his body. He needs to figure out which muscles do what and how much effort is needed to poop. He will often use a little more effort than is necessary while he’s learning. Within a couple of weeks he will be a “poop expert” and the straining should settle.
Straining can also occur when a baby is learning to pass a larger or slightly thicker consistency stool than he’s used to, e.g. when changing from breast feeding to formula or when he first starts on solid food. This also, is normal and generally settles within a week or so.
Staining is normal, but crying during straining can be a sign of constipation.
What to do when baby strains
When your baby strains, lift his knees to his chest (which is a natural squatting position) or gently move his legs backwards and forwards in a ‘bicycle’ motion. Also try…
• A warm bath.
• A tummy massage.
Baby’s large bowel sits in his abdomen in one large loop. Poop travels around his large bowel in a clockwise direction. To assist him to expel gas that can occur with constipation, it’s best to follow the natural path of his large bowel.
Put some oil on your hands and gently massage his abdomen in a clockwise direction using long stroking actions. Alternate this with lifting his knees and the ‘bicycle’ motion.
Is your baby gaining appropriate amounts of weight for his age?
Does he have at least 6 or more wet diapers each day?
If the answer is no, he may not be getting enough fluid in the form of breast milk or formula and this can lead to constipation.
A breast fed baby does not need extra fluids until he starts eating solid foods. Even then only small amounts are offered, more for the benefit of providing learning opportunities than for hydration. Additional fluids should not replace breast milk.
Depending on the climate, a formula fed baby may not need extra fluids until he commences solids. However, if you live in a warmer climate, offering baby water (in addition to formula) is often recommended at an earlier age.
Check how you are preparing his formula. Make sure you are adding the correct number of scoops of formula powder to water, as recommend by the manufacturer. Take care not to overfill or tightly pack the formula powder in the scoop. This can lead to a more concentrated formula and result in constipation.
The type of infant formula
Switching formula (or switching to cows milk) can lead to a change in stool consistency, resulting in either constipation or loose runny stools. Most often this change is only temporary, until your baby’s little tummy gets used to the new formula.
Some types and brands of formula are more constipating than others. If constipation continues to be a problem for your little one, it may be necessary to change formula.
It’s common for a breast fed baby to experience constipation for the first time when solid foods are introduced into his diet. His little body is just not used to digesting anything other than breast milk. Introduce new foods slowly to allow time for him to adjust.
Some foods are more constipating than others. If your baby’s poop is firm, dry or pebbly, think back to what he’s eaten in the previous 24 hours. Did you offer him a new food? If there’s something you can identify, wait until his constipation has cleared, then try offering it in smaller amounts next time.
Fiber is only found in plant foods such as cereals, fruits and vegetables. Babies over 6 months with high intakes of formula or cows milk (only recommended after 12 months) can become constipated. It’s not the milk itself that cause this, it’s simply that the child fills up on milk which means he will have no appetite for other foods which provide fiber.
Common medications given to babies can sometimes cause constipation.
• Pain-killers containing paracetamol, acetaminophen and ibuprophen
• Antacids containing aluminum
• Iron supplements
2.Sugar e.g. brown sugar or corn syrup (Karo)
Increasing the amount of water offered is often more effective than adding sugars to a baby’s diet. For babies less than 6 months old, offer 1 oz of cooled boiled water, once or twice a day. For babies over 6 months offer 2 oz once or twice a day.
A remedy for constipation that has been around for centuries and still recommended today is to add some form of sugar to a baby’s diet. The sugar works by drawing additional fluid into baby’s bowel to soften the stools. Sugar can come from fruit, in the form of fructose or sorbitol or sucrose from sugar cane.
It’s commonly recommended to add sugar (particularly brown sugar) or corn syrup (Karo) to baby’s formula. Rather than do this, we suggest you offer it in a small amount of cooled boiled water for two reasons…
1)The additional water is helpful, and
2)If baby becomes accustomed to drinking the sweetened formula he may fuss with feeding once the sugar or corn syrup is stopped.
Caution: In previous years, honey was recommended as a natural sugar to relieve constipation. It is no longer recommended that children under 12 months be offered honey because the associated risk of botulism (a gastro-intestinal illness).
Add ½ teaspoon of brown sugar (the one used for cooking) to 1 oz of cooled, boiled water. Offer this to baby 3 times a day, directly before formula feeds, until his poop is soft (then stop).
*Although brown sugar is recommended because it contains molasses, white sugar would do.
Corn syrup is a mildly sweet, concentrated solution of sugars derived from corn starch. A common brand is Karo. Light Karo is recommended for treating infant constipation.
Add 1 teaspoon of Karo syrup to 4 oz of cooled, boiled water. Offer 1 oz of this solution to baby from a bottle, just before formula feeds, twice a day until his poop is soft (then stop).
Caution: Only add sugar OR corn syrup to your little one’s diet if you are treating constipation.
Offer diluted apple, prune or pear juice. To begin with dilute the juice to ¼ strength by adding cooled boiled water to the juice. Slowly increase the concentration to ½ strength if necessary.
Diluted fruit juice is not recommended for babies less than 2 months old. For babies aged 2 – 6 months, offer 1 oz of diluted juice (2 oz for babies over 6 months), twice a day until his poop is soft. Give less rather than more to start with. Too much juice can result in abdominal gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Unlike added sugars (including Karo), fruit juice can be offered on a regular or daily basis to maintain soft stools.
Caution: Do not treat infant constipation with diluted juice and additional sugars (including Karo) at the same time. Choose only one treatment.
Fruit & vegetables
If your baby has started eating solids, include MORE fruit and vegetables to his diet, as this may help to reduce the chance of constipation developing in the first place.
Bananas and apple sauce can result in FIRMER stools. Carrots and squash are constipating for some babies. Prunes, peaches, pears, plums, apricots and peas make stools softer. Coloured vegetables tend to help, where as white vegetables can be constipating for some babies.
Rice cereal, bananas, and apple sauce can result in firmer stools. Carrots and squash are constipating for some babies. Prunes, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, and peas make stools softer.
If your baby is under 9 months AVOID citrus fruits such a orange, grapefruit and pineapple, as the acid content in these fruits can be harsh on little tummies, as well as the skin around his mouth and bottom (when it comes out).
In recent decades, there has been much research into the benefits of maintaining a healthy intestinal microflora. Healthy intestinal flora include friendly microorganisms. The main source of friendly microorganisms in a baby's intestinal flora is bifidobacteria. Formula fed babies have only approx 25% of bifidobacteria in their intestines compared to 95% in the intestines of breastfed babies.
Probiotics involve providing live non-pathogenic microorganisms that improve the balance of intestinal microflora. Drinking infant formula with probiotics changes a formula fed baby's intestinal flora to be closer to that of a breastfed baby. Studies have shown probiotic infant formula may soften a baby's stools, decrease nappy rash and provide some protection against gastroenteritis.
Some countries produce infant formulas that include probiotics. (You will find the formula label is clearly marked if it contains probiotics). You can also purchase bifidobacteria from health food stores, which can be added to regular infant formula. Discuss this with your healthcare provider before starting your baby on probiotics.
Laxatives are only necessary if natural remedies have failed or where constipation is severe. Although many different types of laxatives can be purchased over the counter, most laxatives are not suitable for babies and small children. If you feel your little one’s needs a laxative to relieve his constipation, we recommend you consult with your baby’s doctor about the best treatment.
Different laxatives work in different ways.
• Some simply soften the stool.
• Others act as a peristaltic stimulant (in other words, they stimulate the natural contractions of the bowel, in order to push the stool out).
• Some offer a combination of a softener with a peristaltic stimulant.
• Others offer additional fiber.
Laxatives can be given to babies orally, in the form of drops or anally, by suppository or enema.
Babies under 2 months old
1.Offer additional water.
2.Try brown sugar OR Karo syrup in water.
3.Change formula if constipation returns.
Babies between 2 – 6 months
1.Offer baby additional water.
2.Try brown sugar OR Karo syrup in water OR diluted fruit juice.
3.Reduce the amount of solid foods offered (if you have already started baby on solids)
4.Change formula to a whey dominant formula if constipation returns.
Babies over 6 months
1.Offer baby a mixed grain cereal.
2.Offer diluted fruit juice.
3.Increase the amount of fruit offered daily.
4.Change back to a ‘starter’ formula if you have recently switched to a ‘follow-on’ formula.
Babies over 12 months
1.Offer plenty of water.
3.Offer diluted fruit juice.
4.Increase the amount of fruit and vegetables offered daily.
5.Check milk intake, decreasing the amount to 24 oz per day if necessary.
6.For those who are trained or in the process or toilet training, encourage regular toilet times or sit your child on the potty after meals.
When to see your doctor
• If baby cries while straining.
• If constipation remains a persistent problem.
• If your baby is not gaining weight.
• If the number of wet diapers each day has also decreased.
• If your baby’s poop looks unusual or has blood in it.
• If you notice any bleeding from his anus.
• For advice on suitable laxatives.
• *If you are concerned your baby’s constipation is due to iron, please consult your doctor before making any changes to his diet.
*Constipation in infants is rarely due to excess iron. Low iron formula should only be given if recommended by your doctor.
The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical or health care advice or treatment for any medical or health conditions. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem or health issues, promptly consult your professional registered / licensed health care provider.
The information contained in this blog and related website should not be considered complete as it is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad consumer understanding and knowledge of diet, health, fitness, nutrition, disease and treatment options.
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