Treatment for Baby Constipation
Watching a constipated baby strain to try and force out a hard poo can be almost as distressing for parents as it is for the baby.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help relieve your baby’s constipation. Generally, simple dietary changes have a flow-on effect towards creating changes in a baby’s bowel habits.
Occasionally, constipation is a sign that the baby’s gut is not working as it needs to. It’s important to see a health professional if you are at all concerned about your baby’s bowel habits. Before giving your baby any medication or treatments which you feel could help them to poo, first consult with a doctor.
First Things First - What is Constipation?
Constipation is about the consistency of a baby’s poo, not how often they poo. Some babies poo every day and others only poo every few days. Even if your baby hasn’t pooed for a while, as long as their poos are soft and pasty, try not to worry.
It’s common for breastfed babies to poo with every nappy change – up to five or more times each day. Some don’t poo for a week or more. Breastfed babies who are having plenty of milk have poos which are soft and pale to dark yellow or mustard coloured.
Babies who are formula-fed poo less frequently than breastfed babies. They may poo 1-2 times each day, or less often. Their poo is firmer and green to brown in colour.
How Would I Know if My Baby is Constipated?
- Changes in the frequency of pooing can mean constipation. If your baby usually poos every day, and doesn’t have a poo for several days, they may be constipated.
- Illness with vomiting and can lead to dehydration. It’s not uncommon for babies who are not retaining fluids to become constipated.
- If they are having hard, dry and pebbly poos. Constipated poos don’t have much water in them, so they are not like a sausage or paste. Instead, they look like small, separate marbles which can roll out of the nappy and don’t compress down if you try and squash them flat.
- Straining to poo with no result.
- Changes in feeding pattern. Constipated babies can already feel full so they don’t want to feed as much or as often as they usually do.
Treatment Options for Baby Constipation
For babies who are not yet having solid food:
- Extra milk feeds may help. If you are breastfeeding, offer your baby an extra breastfeed or two during the day or late evening.
- If you are formula feeding, offer your cooled, boiled water in-between their feeds.
- Make sure you are preparing their formula exactly as instructed on the Tin.
For babies who are eating solid food:
- Extra fruit and vegetables in their diet will help to boost fibre intake.
- Pureed carrots, pumpkin, green vegetables and pureed apples all contain high quantities of fibre.
- Offer your baby a cup of cooled boiled water to sip on when they’re having their meals.
Constipation Treatment Options for Babies who are Breast or Formula Fed
- Give your baby a deep, warm bath.
- Gently massage their tummy in a clockwise direction.
- Gently bring your baby’s legs up to their chest and then extend them. Repeat this a few times.
- Give your baby some time to kick freely each day with their nappy off.
- Hold your baby’s ankles and gently move their legs in a bicycle action.
If Dietary Changes Don’t Help
One of the functions of the large bowel is to reabsorb water from the poos so they aren’t too loose. If poo sits in the large bowel for a few days, too much water is reabsorbed. This means the poos become dry and hard to pass. Sometimes the poo becomes too big, dry and impacted for the baby to push out.
Always speak and check with a qualified nurse or healthcare professional about your baby to understand what your baby’s individual needs are, especially if you are ever concerned about your baby's well being.
What Not to do for Your Constipated Baby
- Don’t compare your baby’s bowel habits with other babies of the same age. Every baby is an individual.
- Don’t become too focused on your baby’s bowel habits. As long as they are healthy and thriving, reaching their milestones and are happy, it’s very unlikely they are bothered by constipation.
Speak with your Child Health Nurse or doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s bowel habits. Constipation can be a sign of insufficient milk intake or, more uncommonly, health concerns.