What is seen — or not seen — in a baby’s nappy can be a cause of concern for some parents.
Colour, consistency and the frequency of your baby's poo can cause worries about your baby's wellbeing.
If your baby isn’t pooing often enough or has hard poos (pellet-like), he or she may be constipated.
If you think your baby is constipated, a good start is to see their doctor. They will be able to confirm if your baby is constipated.
They will also provide you with information and treatment ideas.
If your baby's constipation is confirmed, or if you suspect constipation is an issue, there are many things you can do to help. Understanding normal infant bowel patterns as well as understanding your baby's habits will help you in deciding what, if any, remedies might help.
Be Familiar With Your Baby’s Normal Bowel Movement Habits
It helps to be aware of your baby’s normal bowel movement habits. This way, if there is a sudden and significant change, you'll be aware of it. When you notice changes, you can discuss them with your baby's doctor or nurse.
You should also make note of any dietary changes, illnesses or other events that might impact baby's bowel movements. This information can help your healthcare provider in evaluating your baby's health.
Breastfed Babies Have Different Bowel Movement Habits Than Formula Fed Babies
Breastfed babies are hardly ever constipated. This is because breastmilk is easily digested, contains a lot of oligosaccharides (fibre) and is perfectly designed to match a human baby’s needs.
It's normal for a breastfed baby (particularly under 6 weeks) to poo frequently. Pooing at least 3 times each day is a good sign she is getting enough breastmilk. Many breastfed babies may even poo much more often than this.
Once over the age of about 6 weeks, some breastfed babies poo less often (e.g. every few days or so). As long as when she does a poo, it's soft and there’s a lot of it, not pooing every day is not cause for concern.
Formula fed babies tend to poo less often than breastfed babies. If there are changes in consistency, or baby appears to be stressed when passing a bowel movement, you can discuss these changes with their healthcare provider.
For more information about baby poos read here.
Baby Constipation Remedies And Relief
The treatment for a baby’s constipation depends on the cause. Here are 5 causes of baby constipation and how to treat it.
#1: Baby's Formula Is Made Incorrectly
When making formula, it's important for the water to be added to the bottle before the powder. If the powder is added first and then the water, this can make the formula too concentrated.
Also, it is important that the correct scoop for the particular container of formula is used. Different formulas come with different sized scoops. Using the incorrect one could cause the formula to be either too concentrated or too diluted. If too much powder is used (e.g. by not levelling the scoop or using the wrong scoop) this can cause the formula to be too concentrated.
When formula is too concentrated, it can cause a strain on baby's kidneys, leading to constipation.
#2: Baby Isn't Digesting Their Formula Well
Some mothers find that certain formulas make their baby constipated. If you think this might be the case for your baby, speak with your doctor or child health nurse about switching to a different formula.
Formula has many ingredients that can vary brand to brand. The variations in formula types can make one type more difficult for your baby to digest than another.
#3: Introducing Solids
It's recommended that solids be introduced around 6 months, when a baby shows signs of developmental readiness.
Some babies, when starting solids, become constipated as their bodies adjust to having new foods.
Breastmilk for a breastfed baby and formula for a formula fed baby continues to be their main source of nutrition for the first 12 months. When starting solids, be sure to go gradually, and keep up the regular breastfeeds/formula feeds.
Some foods (e.g. bananas) are more likely to contribute to constipation than others. Excessive amounts of legumes and other high fibre foods are not appropriate for young babies. A dietitian can help you work out which foods might be best to use.
#4: Painful Bowel Movements
Sometimes a hard poo may cause a small tear in a baby’s rectum or anus. This can hurt and mean that the baby instinctively holds in poo the next time they need to have a bowel movement. This then makes the remaining poo harder and even more difficult to push out creating a difficult cycle of constipation.
See your doctor or child health nurse if you think this might be an issue for your baby.
#5: Food Sensitivity
Constipation can sometimes be a sign of food sensitivity. If a baby has a food sensitivity it can be difficult for them to properly digest that food. It can also cause gut damage making their overall digestion difficult. If you are worried your baby may have a food sensitivity, see a dietitian or your doctor.
If you suspect a food sensitivity, keeping a food diary leading up to your baby's doctor appointment might aid them in diagnosing the offending food.
Do Babies With Constipation Need Extra Water Or Other Liquids To Help?
Giving young babies extra water can be dangerous. It is important to consult with your doctor before giving your baby any water.
Leading health organisations such as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), America’s Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. Exclusive breastfeeding means no other liquids or solids are given, not even water.
In the unlikely event that a breastfed baby is constipated, more frequent breastfeeds are likely to help.
Sometimes, formula fed babies may need extra water. Speak with your paediatrician for more information before giving your baby water.
The following remedies might help your baby’s hard poo to pass through her intestine whether the cause is known or not:
- Gentle tummy massage. Face your baby and place your hand to the left of her belly button (your left, her right). Gently move your hand in a crescent movement over her belly button to the other side. Then do the same thing under his belly button. If your baby is happy for you to do so, repeat this a few times.
- Bicycle action with your baby’s legs. Gently move your baby’s legs in a cycling action.
- A warm bath. This may help your baby’s tummy muscles relax.