Observing your baby's diaper habits is important, since poop is one of the few indicators you get of how well your baby’s digestive system is working. However, because babies are different than adults and a baby's poop goes through frequent changes in color, consistency, and frequency, infant bowel movements also become a frequent source of questions and concerns for parents: "Is this normal? Is my baby constipated?"
What is constipation?
According to the National Institutes of Health, constipation is what happens when poop spends too much time in the colon. The colon absorbs too much water from the poop, making it hard and dry. Hard, dry poop is more difficult for the muscles of the rectum to push out of the body.
How do I know if my baby is constipated?
The first thing to remember when assessing your baby’s poop habits is that babies and adults are very different. As a result, what would be cause for concern in an adult may actually be normal for an infant. For example, because infants have weak abdominal muscles, they have to work really 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. For a baby to have a bowel movement is a major effort, especially because they often need to poop while lying on their back or sitting on the floor.
Ask yourself the following questions as they can be signs that suggest actual constipation:
- 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?
- Do they strain for more than 10 minutes without success?
If your baby shows these signs, consult your healthcare provider. While it’s probably nothing to be concerned about, there are rare underlying conditions that can be causing the constipation, and it’s better to check it out.
Baby Bowel Movements and Poop Frequency
How often does a "normal" baby poop?
Bowel habits of babies are as different as the babies themselves. Some babies go several times a day, while others go every few days or even less frequently. Also, breastfed babies usually poop more frequently than those who are formula fed. Finally, a baby’s poop habits will change as their digestive system matures and their diet changes.
How long does a baby have to go between bowel movements to be "constipated?"
Constipation is determined by more than just the frequency of bowel movements. One baby may go two or three days without a bowel movement and not be constipated, while another might have relatively frequent bowel movements but have difficulty passing the poop. Or a baby’s constipation may go unnoticed if they pass a small poop each day, while a buildup of poop develops in their colon. For this reason, it is important to also consider texture, color, size, and ease of passing.
Poop Texture or Consistency
What poop texture or consistency is "normal?"
There isn’t a "normal" poop consistency, since each baby’s individual digestive system and current diet will affect their poops. Generally, formula-fed babies have soft, mushy poops; whereas breastfed babies or babies fed formulas that have prebiotics can have loose, seedy poops; and babies eating solid foods will have more formed poops.
Do hard poops mean my baby is constipated?
Hard and dry poops are a common sign of constipation.
Do loose or watery poops mean my baby has diarrhea?
Loose, seedy poops are typical for breastfed infants or infants consuming formula with prebiotics. Watery poops lasting for 24 hours could be diarrhea, and you should contact your baby’s doctor.
What colors of stool are normal?
There is a whole range of normal colors, from bright green to yellow to dark brown, depending on a baby’s diet and their digestive system. And, once they start eating solid foods, you might see purple after blueberries or red after beets. You can learn even more about the meanings behind your little one’s poops by checking out the parents’ guide to poop colors.
Now that you know what to look for, do you think your baby might be constipated or having difficulty pooping? Get tips on how to relieve constipation through movement, food choices or OTC products.