It’s always nerve-wracking when your baby or young child cries and you don’t know what’s wrong. Sometimes the cause can be something as simple as an annoying itch, but sometimes it can be because they’re in pain. As your parent “spidey senses” kick in, you recall it’s been two days that your baby had their last bowel movement, and you begin to think that it may be constipation. If you think you may have a constipated baby on your hands and don’t know what to do, here is some information to help you push through – no pun intended!
How Can I Tell if I Have a Constipated Baby?
Because every baby is different, think about what is typical for your baby. Do they normally have a bowel movement after every feeding, or does it usually take a few hours? Also consider what your baby or child eats. Are they eating a lot of dairy products, like cheese, that can back them up? It’s important to keep track of their schedule and day to day activities to ensure that things are adding up.
If you’re still breastfeeding, it’s not uncommon for a baby to make only one bowel movement in a week. Because breast milk is easily absorbed by the baby’s body, there is little waste to expel. However, it is just as common for breastfed babies to expel liquid-y poop several times a day. Frequency truly depends on the individual child. By contrast, a baby that drinks formula or eats solids will likely have more frequent bowel movements but is also more susceptible to constipation.
Keep in mind that it is rare for a baby that is exclusively breastfed to be constipated. With the perfect blend of protein and fat, breast milk produces soft stools — even if your baby hasn’t passed a stool in days.
Signs of a Constipated Baby
But if you have any concern that you may be dealing with a constipated baby, here are signs to watch out for:
- Less frequent bowel movements than usual (three or more days between movements)
- Signs of straining or discomfort when pushing
- A firm belly that’s painful to the touch
- Very fussy and spitting up more frequently
- Refusal to eat
- Hard, dry stools that are difficult for them to pass, no matter how frequently
- Small streaks of blood in stool
What Will Help a Constipated Baby at Home?
- Get them moving around to loosen the stool in the digestive tract. Try pumping their legs in a bicycle motion while they are lying down.
- Massage their abdomen two inches below their belly button towards the lower left side. Apply gentle but firm pressure there with your fingertips.
- A warm bath can help the baby relax their abdominal muscles, which can help with straining.
- If your baby is over 2-4 months old, consider adding a little water to hydrate your baby and help pass their constipation.
- If your baby is older than four months, try adding a little prune to formula or breast milk. If your baby is at least four weeks old, you can also try apple or pear juice (about an ounce for each month of life per day, up to four ounces for a four-month-old). Babies older than eight months can have six ounces of juice a day to treat constipation.
- Cut back on foods like rice, bananas, and cooked carrots.
- Increase fruits like prunes, apricots, or pears to help loosen the stool.
What Can a Doctor Do for a Constipated Baby?
Be sure to call a doctor or go to the ER if you can’t relieve your baby’s constipation on your own or if you notice blood in the stool. If your baby is losing weight, or isn’t eating, it is also time to see a doctor. A doctor will be able to:
- Recommend different types of foods and formulas to prevent or alleviate constipation.
- Recommend over-the-counter stool softeners or administer a glycerin suppository to help your baby have a bowel movement. You should avoid frequent use of laxatives and always check with a doctor before using them.
- Tell you how to treat tears (fissures) in the delicate skin near the opening of her anus. Fissures can continue to cause your child discomfort even after relieving the constipation, so make sure you address this with the doctor as well.
Babies can’t tell us what’s wrong. But if parents are vigilant and educate themselves on the symptoms and treatments, we’ll be able to provide relief when our babies need it.