Baby Constipation: Myth Versus Truth

Is straining a sign your baby is constipated? Here’s what you need to know about baby constipation symptoms.

From baby constipation symptoms and causes to ways to relieve it, get the facts you need to know.

It’s not unusual for babies to seem constipated. The reason? Babies—especially infants—are often lying flat, which makes it more challenging for their digestive system to keep things moving along (unlike older kids, who have gravity to help push things out).  Your baby’s waste may move very slowly through the digestive tract, resulting in hard, dry stools. All the changes in your baby’s diet the first year can also affect his digestive system. We can help you recognize the signs your baby is constipated.

What other facts should you know about baby constipation—and what myths should you ignore?

Some bacteria are good for your baby and can help with constipation.

Truth. Prebiotics (promoters of “good” bacteria) and probiotics (the actual “good” bacteria) can help combat the effects of “bad” bacteria, plus they can help maintain a healthy digestive tract. If your baby is experiencing constipation, ask your doctor about switching to a formula like Enfamil® Reguline®, which has two prebiotics and was specially created to allow babies to pass stools comfortably.

If your baby is straining, he’s definitely constipated.

Myth. Most babies strain (their face looks squished up and they might turn red) when they’re having a bowel movement; this is normal and not a sign of constipation. What’s going on? Your baby is still developing his abdominal muscles, and his digestive tract is also working hard. Sure, it’s taking some effort, but that’s all right. If you’re still concerned, ask your doctor whether a formula like Enfamil Reguline can help.

Your baby should have a bowel movement every day.

Myth. Every baby is different, and babies react to formula in different ways. While most formula-fed babies tend to have a BM at least once a day, having them less often is normal. Breastfed babies tend to pass stools daily in the first month of life, but after that they can go several days or even a week without having a BM. So you may think your baby is constipated, but really everything is normal. As long as your baby’s stool is soft, he’s OK.

Baby exercise can help bowel movements.

Truth. Take your baby’s knees and gently press one, then the other, toward his abdomen. Repeat this exercise as much as your baby will tolerate (some babies really love it, so be prepared for smiles and maybe even laughter). This movement helps get things moving in your baby’s digestive system and may produce the desirable results from his digestive tract. 

Constipation can run in the family.

Truth. If either of the baby’s parents has issues with constipation, the baby might as well. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs and develop good dietary, physical, and lifestyle habits at a young age.

Constipation may be connected to “heaty” foods.

Truth, according to traditional Chinese medicine. The thinking: Most foods have either cooling or warming characteristics, so what we eat affects the levels of yin (cool) and yang (warm) that naturally occur in our bodies. Dry, hard stools are said to be a symptom of a lack of yin—therefore traditional Chinese doctors recommend treating constipation that could be caused by excessive “heat” with cooling foods that will increase yin. These include apples, bananas, pears, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, spinach, Swiss chard, celery, soybeans, buckwheat, and sesame oil. Ask your baby’s doctor what is appropriate for his diet if you believe he has too much inner heat.

To Learn More

For the latest research on constipation, read “What Causes Constipation in Babies? What Doctors Are Learning”.