It’s been two weeks since the birth of your baby.
The family routine is upside down; there’s no schedule anymore. You’re caught up in feeding, changing, rocking, soothing, and snatching sleep … then you wonder ‘When was the last time this little one had a dirty nappy?’
You start mentally checking the last nappy changes. You ask your partner whether he’s seen any stools in those diapers and you count the days your baby has gone without pooping.
You realize it’s been several days since your little one last had a bowel movement and you start to wonder whether your baby is constipated.
Let’s shed some light on babies’ pooping habits.
Newborn’s bowel movements
According to the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative guidelines, baby’s poop transitions from meconium to milk poop in 3 to 5 days. Meconium is dark green in color and milk stools are a mustard color. During these first few days your baby’s poop will change color and consistency.
Most babies pass meconium during the first 24 hours. Sometimes they take a bit longer. If the baby hasn’t pooped during the first day, let your healthcare provider know.
Be aware many babies pass meconium at birth which is a good reason why those first few nappies are poop-free.
For the next couple of days, there’s the transition poo. From day 5, when feeding has been established, the poop is mustard/gold color with a pure consistency.
You can read more in Baby Poop- 11 Interesting Facts For Parents.
2 week old baby’s bowel movements
Your baby has been living earthside for a couple of weeks and by now feeding is starting to become established.
Most guidelines say infants should have 1-2 bowel movements a day in the first four to six weeks. That might differ in some babies – even in most babies – at some point during that time. It usually doesn’t mean there’s a problem.
Let’s look at what constipation in babies really is.
What is constipation in a baby?
To be able to understand what baby constipation means we need to make sure we don’t confuse adult constipation with infant constipation.
As adults we tend to say we’re constipated when we haven’t had a bowel movement for a while and we feel uncomfortable as a result of it.
Constipation in babies is not so much about the time between bowel movements but more about the consistency of the poop and the baby’s struggle to open his bowels.
Constipation means the poop is staying in when it should be out. As a consequence, poo that stays too long in the bowels becomes dehydrated as the intestines keep absorbing water and other substances from it.
As a result, the poo becomes hard and dry and most people struggle to get it out.
If your baby hasn’t pooped for a few days and doesn’t seem bothered by it and if, when it finally happens, the poop consistency is soft and very similar to what it usually is, then your baby wasn’t constipated. He just didn’t poo for a few days.
There’s also a big difference in pooping habits between breastfed infants and formula-fed babies.
Most research articles on infant constipation refer to older infants, or even children, as constipation is very rarely seen in newborns or young babies who are exclusively breastfeeding.
How long can a 2 week old baby go without pooping?
The longest time I’ve heard about a baby not pooing is 9 days. This is based only on my personal experience so it’s quite likely other babies have gone even longer than that.
There wasn’t anything wrong with this baby. He didn’t suffer from it, he wasn’t uncomfortable and he was feeding well.
When his digestive system finally decided to let go, let’s just say it was great it happened while they were at home, close to lots of wipes and a bathtub.
Having said this, please make sure you contact your midwife if your baby hasn’t pooped for a couple of days and you can see this unsettles him.
If your baby isn’t active when he’s awake, or you have concerns that he might not be feeding properly, seek professional advice as soon as possible.
Pooping habits in breastfed babies
Breastfed babies are very rarely constipated. Breast milk is easily digested and meets all baby’s needs. Sometimes there’s very little left to get rid of.
The composition of breast milk also changes, depending on the baby’s needs, so it’s very rare for a breastfed baby to be constipated.
Breastfed babies also tend to poop more frequently than those who are formula-fed.
As the breast milk composition changes, depending on what baby needs, if the baby needs to poop, the milk will be richer in oligosaccharides (fiber) to help him with the necessary bowel movement.
Why is my breastfed newborn constipated?
Breastfed babies may seem like they’re constipated when they aren’t. Remember, constipation in babies means the poo is much drier and harder, and for that reason, it causes discomfort when they try to get rid of it.
If a baby is struggling to poo and the consistency of it is much harder than before, make sure you look for professional help as there might be a problem with your baby’s digestive system.
There could also be a problem with your baby’s ability to get enough milk; the cause needs to be found and the problem sorted.
Whether it’s a problem with baby’s attachment to the breast, suction, positioning, or with milk production, speak to your breastfeeding specialist. The constipation you’re seeing might be highlighting a different problem that needs to be addressed.
If there isn’t a problem with your milk production but your healthcare provider insists you introduce formula, look for a second opinion. Many health care providers aren’t well informed on this matter.
Pooping habits in formula fed babies
Formula-fed babies usually poo less frequently than breastfed babies. If you see a change in the consistency of stools, or your baby is struggling to poo, contact your healthcare provider.
Formula fed newborn constipation
Constipation can occur rarely in babies who are formula-fed. Although the problem might lie with the baby’s digestive system, it tends to be with formula preparation. Make sure you contact your midwife or IBCLC to help you identify what the problem might be.
For more information about possible problems with regard to formula preparation, you can read Baby Constipation – Remedies And Causes.
Baby constipation – when to worry
When a baby is really suffering infant constipation there will be many prior warning signs to let you know there is a problem with feeding or with the baby’s digestive system. These warning signs will appear much earlier than any other specific symptoms or signs of constipation.
If a baby doesn’t poo for days but is happy and alert, he’s not suffering from constipation and you’ll probably just need to wait for those stools to appear.
If a baby isn’t taking enough milk there will be many warning signs such as:
- Your baby might be more sleepy or lethargic than usual, have very low energy, and sleep more than than 4 hours at a time
- He might spend too little or too long feeding; the latch is very painful for you or appears to be shallow
- He might also have slow weight gain
- Urine isn’t pale, and/or you’ll see reddish-brown ‘brick dust’ in the diaper
- Fewer stools.
Can you give a newborn anything for constipation?
There’s nothing you should give orally to a newborn. Even water is a bad idea for a baby younger than six months. When your baby starts to eat solid foods you might start to consider oral constipation home remedies, but not before.
When your baby is ready to start eating solid foods his main source of energy is still milk. The parent who prepares the solid food should make sure foods introduced are rich in fiber – for example, fruits and vegetables – to help baby avoid constipation.
Other remedies, such as introducing something covered in mineral oil into the baby’s anus, an infant glycerin suppository, or even giving him some fruit juice, are not recommended at all.
If your baby is constipated, you can give your baby a tummy massage to help his bowels move, or even use acupressure for constipation.
Baby constipation home remedies
Parents who see their infants having a hard time pooing will do anything to help them release those stools. Here are some home remedies that might alleviate your infant’s constipation.
Give your baby a belly massage. In our bellies, the large intestine is shaped like an inverted ‘U’. Make sure you follow this, starting from the baby’s right side and gently going up, then across the top part of the tummy, and finally down on his left side. This way you will be following the natural path the poo will travel.
When the infant is struggling to pass stools, alternative and non-invasive remedies are usually the most gentle ways to help your baby or even an older toddler or child.
Acupressure is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It follows the same theory as acupuncture does but applies pressure, instead of inserting a needle, at the appropriate body point.
Talk to your baby
Infants need their parents to explain what’s happening to them, especially when they’re experiencing discomfort. The more you talk to your baby the better.
If you do this, or even sing to him while you’re giving him a tummy massage or acupressure your baby will not only feel better but feel safer and happier.
Babies welcome the interaction with a parent as much as they welcome the relief they get from their hands or from techniques.