I’ll never forget the frustrated cries my kids made when they were constipated as babies. They were clearly in pain and had bloated bellies. I quickly discovered that constipation — a chronic condition in which it is difficult to poo — is pretty typical in babies. I also learned that I had to find a way to help alleviate their constipation quickly, both for their own comfort and to break the cycle of constipation.
“The longer a baby isn’t able to poo, the more the stool dries out and becomes hard and painful to pass,” explains Kim Harrison, a certified paediatric nurse practitioner. “Thus, the cycle of constipation will continue.” So, what can you do if your baby is constipated?
How can I tell if my baby is constipated?
Just look at your baby’s poo. “The most important factor in determining constipation in an infant is the consistency of her poo,” explains Dr Deena Blanchard, a paediatrician with Premier Pediatrics in New York City. “As long as your baby’s poop is soft in consistency and is of one of the normal colours of yellow, orange, green, or brown, she is not constipated. But, if her poo is hard like little pellets, she may be constipated, so you should check in with your paediatrician.”
What causes constipation in babies?
• Change in diet. For babies, this could mean the introduction of solids, which can be very disruptive to their digestive system. Common foods that cause constipation in babies include bananas, pureed apple, baby cereal, yohgurt, cheese, cooked carrots, pasta and white bread.
• Lack of fibre. Fibre, found in baby-friendly foods like sweet potatoes and prunes, makes pooing easier. Without it, stool is drier and lighter, and therefore more apt to get stuck in the intestines.
• Toilet training. “Toilet training seems to be a trigger for many,” says Harrison. When toddlers start potty training and exerting their own control over bowel movements, they often withhold stool as a result.
• Genetics. Constipation often affects multiple family members. Chances are, if a parent has problems with constipation, the kids will, too.
• Travel. It happens to the best of us. Being in a new place can mess with a baby’s circadian rhythm and cause toileting problems.
How do I relieve my baby’s constipation?
• Feed her foods that are high in fibre. A diet high in fibre is the mainstay of managing constipation, says Harrison. Be careful though: Young children don’t digest fibre the same way adults do; too much may cause bloating, gas or diarrhoea. In order to unclog your baby’s system, prunes work wonders. Other naturally fibre-friendly foods include pears, peaches, apricots, plums, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and oat/barley baby cereal mixed with prune, pear or apricot.
• Make sure that she’s drinking plenty of breastmilk or water. Don’t forget to keep your baby hydrated. The constipation problem could be as simple as flushing out your baby’s pipes.
• Keep her active. If she’s mobile, she’s already pretty active. But, if she’s not crawling or walking yet, ask your healthcare provider if there are any massage techniques that you can do with your baby (like cycling their legs) to help exercise the limbs and get the insides moving smoothly again.
Okay, so, there is no definitive “cure” for constipation, but as parents we can do a lot to alleviate our babies’ constipation symptoms. Adding fibre to their diet is a great start, but there are times and situations when fibre is not enough. As with anything health related, it is important to work with your doctor if you notice changes in your baby’s toileting pattern.
More on baby health:
- 7 Signs You Should See a Doctor About Your Baby’s Nappy Rash
- Everything You Need to Know About Baby Eczema
- What Are the Symptoms of Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease?