Baby constipation: Common symptoms and the best home remedies

How to tell if your baby is constipated, and what to do about it
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  • Colour, consistency and frequency are all important symptoms of baby constipation. Keep an eye on them when transitioning to solids and ensure your baby is well hydrated to avoid trouble in the nappy department.

    Constipation in babies is quite common, so don’t worry. Find out the most common symptoms to look out for, how to prevent baby constipation, and how to relieve your baby’s discomfort.

    Is my baby constipated?

    Your baby is constipated if they have a hard belly and they haven’t done a poo for longer than what’s normal for them. The poo might be hard and painful for your baby to pass when it does come out, there could be blood in their stools, and they may also lose their appetite. Generally, your baby will not be very happy and they may well cry or strain when trying to go to the toilet. Wondering if your baby is constipated if passing gas? Not necessarily. Babies can pass wind quite often, so passing gas might therefore just be part of their usual bowel movements. Look for any of the other symptoms mentioned above as well as the gas to see if they are actually constipated. If you’re concerned your baby isn’t putting gaining weight correctly, take a look at the average weight for babies aged 0 to 12 months.

    What are normal bowel movements for babies?

    Frequency of bowel movements can vary hugely between one baby and another, so consequently the parameters of what’s considered ‘normal’ are quite wide. This makes it confusing for parents trying to work out whether their baby is ‘overdue’ a dirty nappy or not. Some babies will produce several dirty nappies in a single day, others may only do one or two a week. Just because a baby hasn’t had a bowel movement for several days doesn’t mean he or she is constipated as long as the poo, when it does come, remains soft.

    Does breastfeeding cause baby constipation?

    All babies can get constipated, but exclusively breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from constipation. As a general rule breastfed babies do poos that are loose, squirty, and don’t smell too unpleasant. One of the reasons for this is that when breastfeeding your milk contains a hormone called motilin which aids bowel movements.

    Does bottle feeding cause baby constipation?

    Yes, bottle-fed babies can be more likely to get constipated. Formula milk can be harder for babies to digest and their stools tend to be firmer, darker and smellier. It’s easy to not add enough water to formula milk, which can subsequently lead to dehydration and constipation.

    What causes baby constipation?

    There are 4 main causes of constipation in babies:

    1. Incorrect formula mix
    2. Introducing solids
    3. Change of milk
    4. Dehydration

    1. Incorrect formula mix

    Always make up bottles with the correct amount of formula powder to avoid baby constipation. If it says level spoonfuls, then ensure you level them off. If the powder-to-water ratio is incorrect then your baby could become constipated.

    2. Introducing solids

    Baby food meal planner weaning 7 - 9 months

    Credit: Getty

    Solid food is a big adjustment for tiny tummies that have been used to an easily digestible liquid diet. Some foods such as root vegetables and bananas can take longer to digest and therefore cause constipation. Introduce new tastes slowly and one at a time so that you can identify which, if any, causes constipation in your baby. Try our ultimate baby weaning guide to get it right first time.

    Heidi Skudder, from The Parent & Baby Coach, advises that “Constipation is really normal when weaning first starts – however it should pass. Offer your baby water with each meal, and add water or milk to their foods to increase their overall fluid intake. If constipation becomes an issue, it could be that there are some foods that baby is finding hard to digest. You may want to simplify their diet until they become regular again and then add in foods a second time, but a little more slowly.”

    3. Change of milk

    Your baby might be constipated after changing from breastfeeding to mixed- or bottle-feeding, as their digestion gets accustomed to the new diet. Try to stagger any changes to milk, rather than making them suddenly, to avoid constipation and distress.

    4. Dehydration

    Babies can become dehydrated in the heat or if they are not getting enough fluids. Dr Gerlis of SameDayDoctor says: ‘Dehydration is the most common cause of constipation in babies. If in doubt you can add a water drink as an extra to their diet.’ Always add enough water to your formula milk, and if they are eating solids, then offer your baby a little water with the food to help digestion.

    How to relieve baby constipation quickly

    Natural remedies are a great way to relieve your baby’s constipation, so you don’t necessarily have to visit the doctor:

    1. Extra water

    If you’re making up a bottle, “add about one ounce of extra water to every feed so the baby is always getting extra fluid,” says Dr Gerlis. “For hot summer days this is especially important.”

    2. A warm bath

    A warm bath may help relax your baby and ease constipation. Follow the bath with movement and massage suggested below whilst your baby is on the changing mat, and that might also do the trick. Just make sure you have a nappy or muslin handy!

    3. Bicycle legs

    Baby Constipation massage

    Credit: Getty

    Hold your baby’s feet and move their legs as though they are pedalling an invisible bicycle. This gives a gentle internal massage to the digestive system and gently gets the bowel moving.

    4. Massage

    Try gently massaging your baby’s tummy in a circular motion just below the belly button with baby-friendly massage oil.

    Follow this video from expert Corinna Nicol, founder of The Mummy Circle early parenting community, to see how massage can relieve constipation.

    Corinna Nicol advises that “Constipation is common in babies because they have an immature digestive system. Tummy massage and leg yoga can alleviate the discomfort of constipation.

    “Massage in a clockwise motion around the belly, removing or rolling the nappy down slightly to access the abdomen. Always massage the tummy in a clockwise direction as you are following the path of digestion, from the large intestine into the bowel. Use an organic cold-pressed, vegetable-based oil so your hands glide over baby’s tummy. You don’t need to press hard, but apply the same pressure you would use when soaping your little one in the bath. Sing your baby a song while you are massaging to keep them entertained.

    “Leg yoga includes moves such as bicycling baby’s legs in a steady rhythm. Bring the knees up to the tummy and stretch the legs back out, and take baby’s toes towards their nose. All these techniques help to stimulate baby’s digestive system, and can be really powerful along with tummy massage in helping your baby poo.”

     

    5. Change of diet

    If your baby has already been weaned then eating pureed apricots, peaches, pear, plums or prunes might relieve constipation. Try this easy recipe for blueberry puree to get started. Likewise you could give them a small amount of apple or prune juice diluted 50 percent with water if they are over 3 months.

    6. Acupressure or reflexology for baby constipation

    Follow this popular video to learn about the key acupressure and reflexology points to relieve your baby’s discomfort and to get their bowels moving. The massage is easy to do at home and it’s especially effective on constipation after giving your little one a relaxing, warm bath:

    Is baby constipation dangerous?

    Constipation can become dangerous for your baby if left untreated for a long time. If your baby is constipated and isn’t gaining weight or shows any other unusual symptoms then visit your GP or call 111.