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Constipation in babies and infants

August 27, 2020 • read

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Constipation in babies and infants

Almost every baby suffers from constipation at some point. Luckily, baby constipation is often easy to treat at home. But while some old-fashioned remedies work like a charm, there’s also a lot of really bad advice out there. We’ve got the goods on how to treat baby constipation safely and effectively, so you’ll know when to head to the doctor and when you can treat it yourself.

Constipation in newborns

Constipation in formula-fed newborns is more likely than in breastfed ones, but it can be an issue for both. Trying to figure out how to help a breastfed baby to poop can drive you a little nuts. As crazy as it sounds, one poop a week can (in some cases) be normal for a breastfed baby. Confirm with your doctor if this is normal for your baby and if it is, your best bet is to let it go for a while. Their weekly poop will likely become more frequent once they start eating solids. If you’re concerned that your formula-fed baby isn’t going frequently enough, consider switching brands. It’s possible that an ingredient in the formula is binding them up, and switching formulas might be enough to resolve the issue. Same thing if your little one has started on baby cereal.

How to help your newborn poop

Until they start solids, figuring out how to help a newborn poop more easily can be a little tricky. For your baby’s first six weeks, your breast milk contains colostrum which has laxative properties, so generally, there shouldn’t be any issues until this point. Once the colostrum peters out, however, some babies start to have issues. In this case, you can try giving them a warm bath to relax them, or placing them on all fours to help stimulate their sphincter. A gentle tummy massage to relieve baby’s constipation might also help. If they continue to have issues, speak to their pediatrician for advice on what comes next — baby laxatives aren’t always the best course of action.

Baby constipation after starting solids

While it might make some little ones pass stool more frequently, many find their babies get constipated after starting solids. Bananas and dairy are well-known baby-constipating foods and are best to avoid if your baby is struggling to poop regularly. But baby cereal is also a frequent culprit of baby constipation. Most doctors recommend sticking to fruits and veggies for your baby’s first foods as they are high in fibre and easy to introduce one at a time. 

How to treat baby constipation naturally

If your little one suffers from constipation regularly, there are a couple of natural fixes you can try at home. If you’re trying to figure out how to relieve constipation quickly in your baby, your best bet is to start by giving them more fluids. Formula or breastmilk should be baby’s primary source of nutrition until at least a year, but once they start solids they can also have two or three ounces of water with meals (unless they’re under six months). So-called “p” foods like pumpkin, peas and pears are great for easing constipation. If that doesn’t work, you can also try adding flaxseed (ground or whole) to their purees. Flaxseed is high in both soluble and insoluble fibre and a little can go a long way. But be warned — flaxseed needs to be taken with a lot of water in order to work its magic. Otherwise it’s liable to make the problem worse instead of better. 

What not to do

Giving babies corn syrup for constipation used to be a popular home remedy. But today’s corn syrups don’t always have the same formulations, so there’s no guarantee they’ll be effective. Plus, corn syrup contains tons of sugar, which isn’t good for babies, so you’re better off skipping it entirely. Mineral oil is another internet constipation cure that’s a definite no. Ingesting mineral oil can cause a variety of health complications in babies and children, including death. And unless your doctor specifically recommends it, never insert a thermometer or anything else into your baby’s bum — it can actually perforate their anus. 

How to treat constipation in toddlers

Constipated toddlers are pretty common. At this stage they’re eating tons of different things and food is often a culprit — especially if they’re on the all-pasta toddler diet. But potty training can also cause your formerly regular toddler to struggle with constipation. Having more bowel control means kids can hold in their poop, which a surprising number do once potty training starts. If your toddler is struggling with constipation in spite of more fibre and water, it’s worth speaking to their doctor about adding in a stool softener or a gentle laxative. Holding in poop isn’t good for their body, and in extreme cases it can lead to encopresis (leaking poop). Whatever you do, don’t get into a power struggle with your toddler over pooping in the toilet — they’ll win every time. You’re better off backing off and trying potty training again when they’re ready.

When to worry

When your baby’s constipated, it’s hard not to be concerned that they’re in pain. But you shouldn’t worry unless your baby seems to be straining to pass a BM, their poop comes out as hard nuggets or they have blood in their poop. As well, if your baby seems constipated and isn’t producing at least six wet diapers a day, you should consider that a medical emergency — it could mean that they’re dehydrated.

Babies suffer from constipation just like adults, and like us, it’s rarely indicative of a medical issue. Some babies can poop no matter what they eat, while others have digestive systems that are more sluggish. With a little patience and some help from mom or dad, things should start moving soon enough. But if you’re ever in doubt, don’t be afraid to seek medical attention.

Talk to a doctor online.

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