How To Relieve Constipation In Babies
How can I tell if my baby’s constipated?
When it comes to a baby’s bowel movements, there’s no “normal” number or schedule — only what’s normal for your baby.
Your baby may pass a stool after every feeding, or he may wait a day or more between bowel movements.
His pattern depends on what he eats and drinks, how active he is, and how quickly he digests his food and then gets rid of waste.
With practice, you’ll be able to tune in to your baby’s unique schedule.
That said, if you’re concerned that your baby may be constipated, there are a couple of clues to look for.
One is if he has less frequent bowel movements than his norm, especially if he hasn’t had one in three or more days and is uncomfortable when he does have one.
And if he has hard, dry stools that are difficult for him to pass — no matter how frequently — he may be constipated.
Why is my baby getting constipated?
If your newborn baby doesn’t pass his meconium within 48 hours of birth, his doctor may check to make sure he doesn’t have a rare condition called Hirschsprung disease. (Meconium is a tarry substance usually passed in the first few days after birth, made up of everything your baby’s bowels have accumulated during his months in the womb.)
Once your baby has passed his meconium and is feeding normally, there are several possible constipation culprits:
Babies who breastfeed exclusively are rarely constipated. Breast milk has the perfect balance of fat and protein, so it produces stools that are almost always soft — even if your baby hasn’t had one for several days.
If your baby is on formula, something in his formula may be making him constipated.
Ask your baby’s doctor about switching brands. (By the way, despite what you may have heard, the amount of iron in a formula doesn’t have any bearing on constipation.)
A medical condition or illness.
Though it’s uncommon, constipation can be caused by an underlying medical condition such as hypothyroidism, some metabolic disorders, some food allergies, and botulism.
If your baby passes hard, painful stools, you’ll want to have his doctor check him out, just to make sure.
The introduction of solids.
Don’t be surprised if your baby becomes mildly constipated as he steps up to solid food. That’s because rice cereal — usually the first choice during this transition period — is low in fiber.
If your baby isn’t getting enough fluid, he will become dehydrated and his system will respond by absorbing more fluid from whatever he eats or drinks — and from the waste in his bowels, as well.
The result is hard, dry bowel movements that are difficult to pass.
How can I treat my baby’s constipation?
Here are some things you can try at home to ease your baby’s bowel movements:
- Get him some exercise. If your baby’s a crawler, encourage him to do a few laps. If he’s not crawling yet, try pumping his legs: While he’s lying on his back, gently move his legs in a forward, circular motion as if he were pedaling a bicycle.
- Massage your baby’s belly. Measure three finger-widths below his navel and apply gentle but firm pressure with your fingertips. Press until you feel firmness or mass. Maintain gentle but constant pressure for about three minutes.
- If you feed your baby formula, ask his doctor about switching to a different brand. Some babies are less constipated on soy formula. And sometimes adding a teaspoon of Karo syrup to the formula also does the trick.
- Switching from rice cereal to barley or oat cereal, or adding pureed fruits or vegetables to his regular cereal, once your baby is ready for them, can help. Read about what foods to introduce when.
- Once your baby is eating a variety of solid foods, ask your doctor if you can boost your baby’s fiber intake by adding a teaspoon of bran to his cereal.
- Cut down on constipating foods like rice, bananas, and cooked carrots, and try mixing his cereal with a little bit of apple or prune juice or a few tablespoons of pureed prunes, apricots, or pears to help loosen his bowel movements.
- Increase the amount of fluid your baby drinks to help keep his stools soft. If your baby is over 2 months, give him 1 ounce of prune juice diluted with 1 ounce of water, twice a day to start with. As his constipation improves, you can cut back. Talk with your doctor first if your baby is 2 months old or younger.
- Talk to your baby’s doctor about treatment options. Never give your baby a laxative without your doctor’s approval.
- Ask her about using an over-the-counter stool softener to make bowel movements more comfortable for your baby. She may also suggest you try a glycerin suppository if your baby is severely constipated. The suppository will stimulate the rectum and help him pass a stool. While using a suppository occasionally is fine, don’t do it regularly, since your baby could wind up relying on them to have a bowel movement.
- If your baby is passing such hard, dry stools that he tears the delicate skin near the opening of his anus (you may see these tears, known as anal fissures, or a little blood), apply a little aloe vera lotion to the area to help it heal. And be sure to mention the tears to your doctor.