constipation in babies

It is important to clearly define constipation in a baby.  Some babies may pass stools a few times a day, whilst others may pass every day or two.  Every baby’s bowel movements are different.  The consistency of the poop is key as well as the action required to pass the stool.  If you baby doesn’t pass stools too often, but passes them very easily and produces a lovely soft stool, this is often not a cause to worry.  Babies however that strain when passing a stool, show a level of discomfort and produce a hard, dry stool or pellets warrants further investigation.  Babies that are constipated may also have streaks of blood in the stool which is very frightening for any parent to see.

During the first 4-6 months of age, a baby’s sole source of nutrition is provided from either breastmilk or formula milk.  Breastfed infants are unlikely to experience constipation primarily due to the unique and tummy friendly properties of breastmilk.  Remember that not all babies pass stools daily, and breastfed infants can pass a stool with each feed, once a day or once every 2 days – there is no set norm although you usually find breastfed infants pass stools more regularly and produce a softer stool.  If your breastfed baby is however straining, experiencing discomfort and passing hard pellet like stools, it is recommended to visit your paediatrician.  Constipation in formula fed infants may sometimes be caused by the composition of the formula.  We do not recommended formula hopping or changing a formula unnecessarily, but if your baby is struggling with constipation, it is recommended to chat further with your paediatrician or dietician.  They can assess the constipation, rule out possible causes as well as review the formula, daily intake and perhaps consider or recommend an alternative and advise regarding additional water intake if age appropriate.

Between the ages of 4-6 months, constipation may pop up when solids are introduced. This is usually due to the gut is adjusting from the easily and highly digestible breast milk to food. Remember that baby’s stools will firm up when solids are introduced due to this transition from milk to solid food.  But if you find your baby struggling to pass stools and producing hard pellet stools, it is recommended to look at the dietary intake and try some magical tricks.

Here are some helpful dietary recommendations when age appropriate:

prunesThe Power of Prunes – there is no disagreement that prunes are possibly one of the best fruits available to kick start the gut into action.  A natural laxative and highly recommended for any baby that is constipated.  Opt for home prepared prune purees as the healthier option. Prunes are traditional known as one of the ‘’P’’ fruits, in additional to pears, plums and peaches – all known to be good fruit choices for constipation.

Constipation culprits – bananas and cooked apple are commonly referred to as constipation culprits. Reducing the intake or possibly even removing them from the diet for a few days may help alleviate the constipation.  Other possible culprits are yoghurt and cheese.  As this foods play a vital role in providing those all-important nutrients to your baby, it is not recommended to avoid these foods unnecessarily out of the fear of them causing constipation.

Nothing can beat home cooking and continue to offer home cooked purees, textured food and finger foods depending on the age of your baby.  Continue to offer your baby a range of fruits and vegetables as the fibre in these foods are great for getting those stools moving.

flaxseed_oilFlaxseed oil is a natural laxative and a great source of omega 3 fats, a double bonus for your baby. It is recommended to start slowly and only for babies older than 6 months of age.  The recommended dose is to start off with 2.5ml per day and to increase to 2.5ml twice daily. You can mix it into your baby’s purees.

Fluid intake is very important and luckily, most babies do not struggle to meet their fluid requirements through breastmilk or formula milk (provided there are no milk feeding problems present).  Often parents are unsure regarding giving additional fluid especially when there little ones are constipated.  If breastfeeding, continue to breastfeeding regularly as breastmilk provides all the hydration the baby needs.  Formula fed infants may however require additional water and you can offer +30ml of cooled boiled water when necessary if your baby is over the age of 6 months or with each meal.

Non-dietary interventions such as tummy massage, bicycle legs and a warm bath can also help those poops to make their grand exit.  Your clinic sister or midwife will be able to correctly advise you on appropriate infant massage techniques.