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Baby Constipation Guide: All About Baby Poop & Constipation

All About Baby Constipation

Constipation occurs when stool is compact and difficult to pass, and it can affect many babies in the first year of life. While constipation may concern parents and be uncomfortable for the baby, a few dietary changes can usually help put your little one back on track. Let’s explore the potential causes and indications of baby constipation, how to relieve your little one’s discomfort, and when it might be time to see the doctor.

Baby bowel movements by age

Knowing what to expect in your baby’s bowel movements will help you determine if there is a constipation issue. Here’s a breakdown of typical baby stool appearances and poop frequency based on a baby’s age.

Bowel movements during the first few days

Appearance: The very first bowel movements are a thick black or greenish substance called meconium.

Frequency: Babies usually poop at least once a day during the first week. This stage only lasts a few days.

Bowel movements during the first month

Appearance: Once you’re past the first few days of life, your little one’s poop will have a yellower and seedier texture. It should appear soft and have a rice pudding or pasty consistency.

Frequency: During the first month of life, your baby’s bowel pattern will start to vary. Your infant could have bowel movements anywhere from several times a day to once every few days. These patterns are acceptable as long as the poop always has a soft, seedy appearance.

Bowel movements by two months old

Appearance: By two months, poop may be orange/yellow, yellow/brown, yellow/green, or darker green. Your child’s feeding method affects stool texture and color. Breastfed babies pass mustard-colored poop with seed-like particles. These bowel movements tend to be soft but can vary from runny to firm. Formula-fed babies have firmer, slightly deeper-colored poop, but they’re typically still on the softer side.

Frequency: Some babies poop with each feeding, making those parents diaper-changing pros. Fewer poops are fine, too. By three to six weeks, some breastfed newborns may only have one dirty diaper a week. Formula-fed newborns usually poop at least once a day.1

Bowel movements at three months old

Appearance: Once your baby’s intestines can hold more fluid and absorb more nutrients from breast milk or formula, their poops become increasingly solid.

Frequency: As their gastrointestinal system matures, your baby likely won’t need to poop as often. Bowel movement frequency may vary from several a day to once every three or four days. Breastfed babies may poop less frequently.

Bowel movements at four months to 1-year old

Appearance: Once your baby starts eating solids, get ready for the possibility of technicolor poop! Stools can take on the hues of food, while the sugars and fats in food may give stool a strong odor. Your little cutie is also a little stinker.

Frequency: Bowel movement frequency can vary from baby to baby. Some healthy babies poop after every feeding, while breastfed babies may go four to seven days without pooping.

Typical bowel movement texture, color, and frequency

Since typical baby bowel movements vary in textures, colors, and frequency, deciphering what's going on in your little one's diaper may be confusing. Here's what you might expect:

Texture

There isn't a "typical" poop consistency since each baby's digestive system and diet will affect their poops.

  • Breastfed babies or babies fed formulas with prebiotics: Loose, seedy poops
  • Formula-fed babies: Soft, pasty poops with a peanut-butter-like consistency
  • Babies eating solid foods: Firmer poops that may even contain bits of food

Textures may also change if you switch formulas, start supplementing, or introduce cow's milk.

Color

There’s a whole range of common poop colors, from bright green to yellow to dark brown, depending on a baby’s age, diet, and digestive system.

Your baby’s first bowel movement is called meconium and is thick, sticky, and green-back; this color will change to green, then yellow-brown over the first week of the baby’s life. Breastfed babies are more likely to pass yellower stools than formula-fed babies.

Once your little one starts eating solid foods, their stool color will darken. You might even see some more colorful, unexpected shades, such as purple after your baby eats blueberries or red after eating beets. You can learn more about the meanings behind your baby’s poops by checking out The Essential Guide to Baby Stool Types and Color.

Frequency

Babies’ bowel habits are as different as babies themselves. Some infants go several times a day, while others go every few days or even less frequently. Your little peanut’s poop habits will also evolve as their diet changes to solids and their digestive system develops, both of which can cause a dip in bowel movement frequency.

How can I tell if my baby could be constipated?

Here are some key things to look for when you’re trying to confirm if your baby is constipated:

  • Crying or having an unusually tough time when having bowel movements
  • Arching their back or squeezing their buttocks while trying to produce a bowel movement
  • Their 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 the diaper (which may be passing around dry or impacted stool)
  • Stool is unusually large and wide when passed
  • Significantly fewer bowel movements than before

Keep in mind that your baby’s poop habits will be very different from an adult’s. What may be cause for concern in an adult may actually be expected in an infant. For example, because infants have weak abdominal muscles, they must work extra hard to have a bowel movement. So, straining to poop isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, even when your baby cries or gets red in the face. It’s a major effort for a baby to have a bowel movement, especially because they often need to poop while lying on their back or sitting on the floor. Looking at all the above factors—not just straining—can be helpful when trying to determine if your baby is constipated.

What causes constipation in babies?

Constipation is what happens when poop spends too much time in the colon. The colon absorbs too much water from the poop, making the stool hard and dry. Hard, dry poop is more difficult for the rectum muscles to push out of the body.2 And the longer it stays in the colon, the worse the condition can get.

While constipation can cause pain and discomfort, it’s usually not a serious condition, and sometimes just a few dietary changes are needed to get things moving again. Some common causes of baby constipation include:

  • Changes in your baby’s diet. Switching from breastmilk to cow’s milk or introducing solid foods as their tummy learns how to digest could cause constipation.
  • Certain foods. In babies over six months of age, bananas, rice cereals, apple sauce, pasta, cereals, and too much cheese are a few types of foods that may contribute to constipation.3
  • Changes to your baby’s routine. Events that disrupt your little one’s typical routine, such as traveling, could cause constipation.
  • Cow’s milk protein allergy. Some babies may experience constipation due to cow’s milk protein allergy.4
  • Dehydration. Nursing and consuming formula can be uncomfortable for babies who are teething or have a stuffy nose, so they might not consume enough and become dehydrated.5 Lack of fluids can make poop harder.
  • Family history. Constipation can run in families.
  • Some medications. Constipation can be a side effect of some medications.
  • Lack of fiber. Older babies who may not be getting enough fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, may experience constipation.
  • Medical conditions. Rarely, constipation can stem from a colon disease, anatomic malformation, or neurological issue.6

Your baby’s bowel habits are unpredictable for a number of reasons. Understanding what could be causing your little one’s constipation may help you come up with strategies for managing it. Talk to your pediatrician for guidance.

Iron and constipation in babies

While some believe that their baby’s hard, difficult-to-pass stools are linked to iron-fortified infant formulas, the iron in formula is not enough to contribute to constipation.7 Iron is extremely important for your baby’s growth and development 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.

How to relieve constipation in babies

If your little one’s bowel movements are experiencing a slowdown, call your doctor and try these simple baby constipation relief tips to help get things moving.

  • Try different foods. If your baby is on solids, ask your pediatrician about trying pureed peas or prunes and barley cereal instead of rice cereal. Also, ensure that your baby is consuming enough fluids with their new solid foods.
  • Boost good bacteria with prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics and probiotics can help establish a healthy gut microbiome, which can impact many bodily functions and potentially increase stool frequency.8
  • Get moving. Keeping your little one moving can help keep their bowels moving, too. Depending on your baby’s age, encourage crawling or walking, or roll them over from back to front. You can also try moving their legs by gently guiding their knees toward their stomach, one at a time, like they are riding a bike.
  • Give apple or pear juice. If your baby is at least a month old, a little apple or pear juice may help loosen stool. Check with your doctor first.
  • Try a formula designed to promote comfortable stools. Sometimes simple diet changes make all the difference. If your baby is using formula, ask your pediatrician 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 your baby laxatives, suppositories, or enemas unless instructed by your doctor. If you’re concerned about your baby’s stool pattern, check with your pediatrician for advice.

When to call your pediatrician about your baby’s constipation

If you suspect your baby is constipated and wondering if you should call your pediatrician, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your baby excessively fussy?
  • Is your baby spitting up more than usual?
  • Is your baby having dramatically more or fewer bowel movements than before?
  • Are your baby’s poops unusually hard, or do they contain blood?
  • Does your baby strain for more than 10 minutes without success?

If you answer “yes” to any of the above, it’s a good idea to consult your pediatrician. While in many cases, constipation is nothing to be too concerned about, there are rare underlying conditions that can cause constipation. A professional evaluation will help you determine the root of the issue and give you some peace of mind. You’ll also want to call the doctor if you notice the following:

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

What to ask your pediatrician about your baby’s bowel movements

If you suspect your baby is constipated, here are some questions to consider asking during the appointment with your pediatrician:

  • Is my baby constipated?
  • What are the typical causes of constipation?
  • Can it be easily addressed?
  • What are some nutritional options for managing 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 typical?
  • Should we see a specialist?
  • I’d like to do more research on constipation. What resources would you recommend?

Ask your doctor about Enfamil Reguline Infant Formula

It’s not unusual for babies to have unpredictable bowel movements. In many cases, a few simple dietary changes and increased activity can help your baby experience more regular bowel movements. Check with your doctor for guidance. If you’re feeding your baby formula, ask if Enfamil Reguline Infant formula could be a good constipation management option. Enfamil Reguline is designed with prebiotics proven* to promote soft, comfortable stools within the first week of use. It’s a nutritionally complete formula that can be used throughout your baby’s first year and may help relieve backed-up poop and get your little one’s bowel movements back on track.

*Proven in Enfamil Infant Formula.

References:

1“Your Child’s Poop: What’s Normal, What’s Not.” American Academy of Pediatrics brochure. https://shop.aap.org/your-childs-poop-brochure/. Accessed October 31, 2022.

2“Constipation.” Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4059-constipation#:~:text=Constipation%20happens%20because%20your%20colon,digestive%20tract%2C%20nutrients%20are%20absorbed. Accessed October 31, 2022.

3“Baby and Constipation: What You Need to Know.” Mercy St. Louis. https://www.mercy.net/service/newborn-baby-care/constipation/#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20causes%20of,of%20yogurt%2C%20cheese%20and%20milk. Accessed October 31, 2022.

4Biggs, Wendy S., M.D., and Dery, William H., M.D. “Evaluation and Treatment of Constipation in Infants and Children.” https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2006/0201/p469.html. Accessed October 31, 2022.

5“Breastfeeding challenges.” National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/feeding-your-baby/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-challenges/constipation/. Accessed October 31, 2022.

6“What is Constipation?” GI Kids. https://gikids.org/constipation/what-is-constipation/. Accessed October 31, 2022.

7“Choosing a Baby Formula.” HealthyKids.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/formula-feeding/Pages/Choosing-an-Infant-Formula.aspx. Accessed October 31, 2022.

8Huang, Ruixue and Hu, Jianan. “Positive Effect of Probiotics on Constipation in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Six Randomized Controlled Trials.” National Library of Medicine, April 28, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5408016/. Accessed October 31, 2022.