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Guide to Baby Constipation

Guide to Baby Constipation

Constipation in babies is when newborns struggle to have a poo. If you’re a new mother, it could be worrying if you notice your baby’s bowel movements aren’t occurring as often as they should be, or that they’re in pain while pooing. Rest assured that this is common and can be treated at home.

Here is a detailed guide on why babies get constipated, constipation symptoms and how to treat it. However, if you are concerned about symptoms, then do talk to your GP or midwife.

Is my baby constipated?

Although it’s easy to identify whether a baby is constipated or not by looking at their poo and bowel habits, new mothers may need that reassurance to ensure their baby is healthy. Some common ways in which you can identify your baby’s constipation is by looking at how often they poo and what their poo looks like:

How often should a baby poo?

A newborn’s pooping habit differs from baby to baby, but breastfed babies tend to have a more frequent and softer poo than formula-fed babies.

Breastfeeding babies tend to poo after every feed in the first few weeks. This can change to only two to three times a day or even once a week after six weeks. There’s nothing to worry about if your baby isn’t pooing as often as they used to, as long as the stools are soft.

What should baby poo look like?

In the first few days, your newborn poo is made up of meconium, which means it may have a thick, dark green or even black appearance – and this is completely normal.

After a few days, your baby’s stools will become softer and yellow in appearance. This can last for a good few weeks, but as your baby gets older and start weaning and eating solid foods, the poo’s appearance will get slightly darker.

Signs of constipation in babies

  • A hard belly
  • Loss of appetite
  • Smelly poo and wind
  • Abdominal pain
  • Crying and discomfort, pain, or irritability before doing a poo
  • Straining when passing a stool
  • Dry, hard, pellet like poo
  • Blood in the stool
  • Point less than 3 times a week

What causes constipation in newborns

There are many different causes of constipation in babies:

Incorrectly mixed formula

If your baby is breastfed, they are less likely to be constipated because breast milk is easier to digest than infant formula. Breast milk contains a hormone called motilin which increases movement of baby’s bowels, making them poo more often and preventing newborn constipation.

Weaning baby constipation

When you start to introduce solids, babies often become constipated as their bodies need to learn how to manage new foods. During this period, the frequency and the consistency can change in your baby’s bowel movements.

To help them during weaning, make sure they are well hydrated and have enough high fibre foods in their diet. For example, pureed or mashed apples, apricots, raspberries, and strawberries are all high in fibre and will act as a natural laxative for babies. For more advice on getting started with solid foods read this article.

Dehydration

Keeping your baby hydrated is the key to avoiding constipation. Give your baby 1 – 2 oz (30-60ml) of cooled boiled water to help encourage bowel movements. Having plenty of fluid in their system makes the poo softer and easier to pass, whereas dehydration causes dry, hard poo which is more difficult to pass.

Stress or anxiety

Older babies may get stressed due to changes in environments such as a house change or arrival of a new baby. This could trigger constipation – so if you’re recently moved house or had a new baby, the constipation may be caused due to stress.

How to relieve constipation in babies quickly

There are various home remedies that can help a constipated baby: 

Baby massage for constipation

Massage your baby’s tummy. Start at the belly button and then massage in circles outwards in a clockwise direction. If they are finding this uncomfortable, stop and try again later.

You can also move your baby’s legs in a cycling motion or hold their feet and knees together and push them towards the belly. This will help move their poo along their intestine.

Cream or petroleum jelly around the outside of the anus may make their poo experience easier.

Warm bath for constipation

A warm bath will help your baby relax their abdominal muscles and stop straining, which can help your baby pass on stools more easily. It can also help to massage their stomach again once they are in the bath.

Dietary changes

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, taking care of your diet and eliminating certain foods such as dairy and introducing more fibre-based foods may help with the baby’s constipation.

While for bottle feeding babies, try changing their formula – sometimes a certain formula may not be well digested, so a change may help relieve the issue.

However, if your baby is weaning or eating solid foods, we’d recommend introducing fruits and vegetables such as peaches, apples, pears and other wholegrain foods such as oatmeal and bread. All these foods are high in fibre and will help their stools pass easily.

Can I give my newborn water for constipation?

Babies get all their hydration from breastmilk. However, if your newborn is formula-fed or is weaning, you can start giving them some water in between feeds. This will help with dehydration, helping baby poo easier.

You can also feed them fruit juices such as prune, peach, or apple juice – all knows to relieve constipation.

When to worry about baby constipation

If you believe your baby is constipated, you should always speak to your GP or health visitor. Constipation can be a sign of illness, such as a food allergy or possibly food poisoning. In more serious cases it can be the sign of a metabolic disorder or congenital conditions. For example, Hirschsprung’s disease, which is where the large intestine doesn’t function properly, but please note this is very rare.

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