All About Baby Constipation

All About Baby Constipation

Constipation can affect babies even in the first year of life. Normally it’s not a serious condition, and most of the time a few dietary changes will put your baby back on track. Get a better understanding of what causes baby constipation, signs of constipation in babies, what you can do to relieve constipation in your little one, and when it might be time to the see the doctor.

What’s Normal for Baby’s Bowel Movements?

Knowing what to expect when it comes to baby bowel movements is the first step to noticing if something is wrong. Here’s what you can typically expect from your new baby’s bowel movements:

  • Newborns will have one or two BMs a day and may pass as many as five to ten daily by the end of the first week—often shortly after a feeding.
  • Around six weeks of age, baby might pass stools only once or twice a week.
  • While most formula-fed babies tend to have a BM at least once a day, having them less often is also normal.
  • It’s not necessarily how often your baby has a BM that’s the issue; as long as the stool is soft, baby is probably fine.
  • Infants have weak abdominal muscles, so it’s not uncommon to see them strain when they’re having a bowel movement. Straining alone doesn’t necessarily signal anything unusual.

What Should Baby Bowel Movements Look Like?

The color or consistency of baby’s BMs may confuse or concern, even if they’re clearly not constipated. Depending on age and diet, your little one’s bowel movements can look like any of the following:

  • Baby’s first BM is called meconium and is thick, sticky, and green-back; this color will change to green, then yellow-brown over the first week of baby’s life.
  • Breastfed babies are more likely to pass stools that are yellower than babies who are formula fed.
  • Runny stools are normal; this may change as formulas are changed or when switching from or supplementing breastfed babies.
  • Stools will become firmer as more solid foods are introduced into baby’s diet—you may even notice bits of food in stool, which is normal.

What are Signs of Constipation in Babies?

Are you wondering, "Is my baby constipated?" Here are some key signs to look out for when you’re trying to confirm baby constipation:

  • Crying or having an unusually tough time when having bowel movements
  • Baby arches their back or squeezes their buttocks while trying to produce a BM
  • Baby’s tummy is swollen, and they show discomfort when it’s touched
  • Stool is hard, small and pellet-like, or there are traces of liquid stool in baby’s diaper (which may be passing around dry or impacted stool)
  • Stool is unusually large and wide when passed

What Causes Baby Constipation?

Normally baby constipation is not a serious condition, and most of the time a few dietary changes will put your baby back on track. Some of what could be causing your baby’s constipation include:

  • Changes in your baby’s diet
  • Changes to your baby’s routine
  • Dehydration
  • Extreme heat
  • Family history
  • Certain medications
  • Lack of fiber

Is There a Connection Between Iron and Constipation?

While many people think that iron-fortified baby formula might be one of the causes of constipation in babies, recent studies have debunked that myth. Iron is an extremely important part of your baby’s diet and should not be eliminated. In fact, if your baby is low in iron, your doctor may recommend a supplement like Enfamil® Fer-In-Sol® iron drops. Iron plays a role in brain development and creating healthy red blood cells.

Your baby’s bowel habits can be unpredictable for a number of reasons. Knowing what may cause constipation can help you relieve constipation in babies.

How to Relieve Constipation In Babies

It’s not unusual for babies to experience irregular bowel movements. The key is to recognize when you need to act. Here are tips on how to relieve constipation in babies and to help you manage your baby’s unpredictable BMs in a safe and effective way.

Some simple, natural steps can help treat or even prevent irregular bowel movements in babies include:

  • Help soften stools with food choice. If your baby is on solids, ask your doctor about trying pureed peas or prunes, and offering barley cereal instead of rice cereal. Also ensure that babies on solids are getting enough fluids each day.
  • Boost good bacteria with prebiotics and probiotics. Research has found that children with chronic constipation have different bacteria in their stool when compared with non-constipated children. Many experts suggest boosting good bacteria to help keep the bad bacteria population under control in the digestive tract. You can do this by giving your baby either prebiotics or probiotics: Prebiotics are the fuel that helps probiotics thrive.
  • Help your baby’s bowels with movement. The more sedentary your baby is, the more they’re at risk for constipation. Keeping them moving (crawling, walking, even rolling over from back to front) help relieve constipation in babies. If your baby is young, you can try moving their legs by gently guiding their knees toward their stomach, one at a time.
  • Try a formula that’s designed to promote comfortable stools. Sometimes simple diet changes can make all the difference. Ask your doctor if switching formulas could help. Enfamil® Reguline® has prebiotics to help promote good digestive health and comfortable poops and has all the same great nutrition as other Enfamil formulas.

Don’t attempt to manage constipation medically on your own. Never give a baby laxatives, suppositories, or enemas unless instructed by your doctor. If you’re concerned about your baby’s stool pattern, be sure to check with their pediatrician for advice.

When to Call the Doctor About Baby Constipation

If your at-home efforts to relieve baby’s constipation don’t seem to be working or any of these other symptoms appear, it’s time to call the doctor:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rectal bleeding

But remember, it’s not unusual for babies to have unpredictable bowel movements. In many cases, a few simple changes to their diet and an increase in their activity level can help your baby experience more regular BMs.

What to Ask the Doctor About Baby Bowel Movements

While irregular bowel movements are relatively common in babies, you should feel comfortable calling your child’s doctor at any time with concerns and questions—not just when you think baby may be constipated. Here are some to consider asking:

  • Is my baby constipated?
  • What are the typical causes of constipation?
  • Can it be easily addressed?
  • What are some nutritional options for alleviating constipation?
  • Are laxatives ever recommended for a baby?
  • Should I try to extract dry stool from my baby’s bottom?
  • Is it OK to give water or prune juice to a baby younger than 12 months? Younger than six months?
  • Should I change my baby’s formula or diet? What should I add? What should I take out?
  • I’m breastfeeding—could this be causing baby’s constipation?
  • I noticed these changes when my baby transitioned to solids. Is this normal?
  • Should we see a specialist?
  • I’d like to do more research on constipation. What resources would you recommend?

Before You See Your Doctor about Baby BMs and Constipation

Before you head into the doctor’s office about baby constipation or other BM concerns, call the office and ask if you should do anything in preparation for your visit. Write down all your baby’s symptoms and your concerns, including answers to these questions:

  • When did you first notice that your baby seemed constipated?
  • What have your baby’s stools been like the last few days (e.g., color and consistency)?
  • What is your baby’s normal bowel-movement schedule (e.g., frequency per day), and how has it changed?
  • Has there been any change in your baby’s diet?

Having a written outline of your baby’s symptoms and patterns before you see the doctor will help you clearly—and accurately—explain the circumstances. After all, you’re the one who knows your baby best. Also, write down your list of questions (a good start is the list above) and bring them with you. Make a list of everything your baby is taking—what they eat and drink, any medications or supplements—and note any changes that may’ve occurred to baby’s routine.

Issues regarding constipation rarely indicate a serious medical problem. But if your doctor thinks your baby’s constipation is serious enough, they might recommend that you see a specialist. A gastroenterologist is someone who specializes in digestive disorders and may be able to diagnose any underlying condition.

Now that you know what to look for and how relieve baby constipation, discover other helpful articles on common feeding issues such as cow’s milk allergy, lactose intolerance, and more.