We adults can get constipated now and then, if we don’t eat enough fiber in our diet or drink plenty of water and other healthy fluids. The natural solution to our constipation is simply to eat more natural, fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and to drink more fluids.
But what can be done when a newborn gets constipated? Young babies can’t rely on different foods to move their bowels, if they’re not yet old enough to eat solids. Yet, newborns do sometimes suffer from constipation.
Causes of Newborn Constipation
Whether baby is breastfed or formula-fed, he or she may become constipated sooner or later. If baby consumes strictly breast milk, formula, or a combination, constipation could indicate an allergy or intolerance to a milk protein or to the milk sugar lactose. If you breastfeed (or if baby is older and drinks cow’s milk), switching to organic milk could help or even eliminate the problem. The other option for a nursing mom is to eliminate dairy foods from your diet during the time that you’re breastfeeding. If baby is formula-fed, switching to a non-dairy-based formula should help.
Constipation in a newborn can also be a sign that your baby isn’t getting enough nutrition and fluid from the diet — meaning that they need to drink more milk. If you breastfeed, be sure you are drinking lots of water and other healthy beverages every day. Avoid caffeinated drinks, as they dehydrate you. If you feed your baby formula, be sure that you are not using either too much or too little formula when you prepare the bottles; follow instructions on formula container.
Switching formulas can also lead to constipation (or runny stools). This change is usually temporary, until baby adjusts to the new formula. But if problem persists, talk to your pediatrician about switching formulas. If you’ve recently switched to a follow-up formula, it may be necessary to go back to the starter formula for a time. Consult with your pediatrician.
Avoiding constipation in your baby is yet another important reason to breastfeed: formula-fed babies are much more likely to get constipated than breastfed infants. This is because breast milk has natural compounds that help soften the stool, and which have a laxative effect.
The following may also lead to constipation when given to a baby: antibiotics, painkillers with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, antacids with aluminum, and iron supplements.
Signs that Your Baby Is Constipated
New moms may be alarmed and fear constipation, if their newborn doesn’t have a bowel movement for many days in a row. But pediatricians advise that it is normal for young babies to go a number of days without passing stool. Breastfed newborns can have several bowel movements a day, but they can go as long as a week without a stool. This does not necessarily mean constipation; it could simply be your baby’s digestive system getting a routine in place. A formula-fed baby can go 1 to 2 days between stools. Also, there may be a decrease in the number of stools in a breastfed baby at about four weeks of age, as baby’s gut begins to mature and better absorbs the nutrients in the milk. This reduction in stools is normal and does not indicate constipation. (No such decrease is perceived in formula-fed babies.)
Once baby starts eating solid foods, which is not recommended before six months, stool frequency may decrease as well.
The consistency of stools is a better indicator of constipation than their frequency. A baby’s stool should be pasty, soft or even runny. If this describes your baby’s stool, he or she is not constipated. A constipated baby will pass dry, hard or pebbly stools.
You may see your infant draw up her legs and grunt as she passes a stool. This is no cause for concern; it is just a sign that your baby is getting to know what her body parts do and is teaching herself how much force is needed to pass the stool. However, if straining is accompanied with crying, that may indicate that your baby is constipated.
Other signs of constipation:
- blood in the stool
- small, bloody cracks on your baby’s anus
- abdominal pain
- reduced appetite
13 Natural Remedies:
Many parents are understandably reluctant to use laxatives or suppositories on their young infants. The following are natural remedies that moms have found effective for baby constipation:
- Offer 1 or 2 oz of water twice a day. Once baby passes stool, it’s a good idea to stop the water, as breast milk or formula properly measured should supply all your baby’s fluid needs. However, if you find that an ounce of water or so helps your baby stay regular, you may add this to your infant’s daily diet. While many pediatricians advise that it’s okay to dilute 1 oz of fruit juice with about three parts water to treat your newborn’s constipation, parents should bear in mind that giving a baby fruit juices before 6 months of age greatly increases the infant’s chances of developing food allergies later on
- Put baby on her belly and spend a half hour playing with her. Or you can place her, face down, over your knees while you hold up her head with one hand. As you do that, you can gently massage or caress baby’s back, arms and legs, to promote relaxation and relieve fussiness. If baby is more than a few months old, you can place her tummy against your leg, as her pelvis and legs rest on the sofa
- In the case of a newborn, you can help give baby a push by laying her on her back, cupping each of her heels in each of your hands, then gently bringing her knees up toward her chest, then back down. Do this a few times. You can also grab both heels, and alternately raise one leg up while the other is lowered, as though baby were riding a bicycle
- Introduce solid foods gradually and only once baby is six months old. For babies six months or older, if constipation occurs, make sure baby gets plenty of water and diluted fruit juices. Feed the same food for several days before introducing another food; that way, if a food is a problem, you can pinpoint it. If a certain food constipates her, wait until constipation clears and offer that food in a smaller amount
- Babies who are six months or older and are on solid foods need to take in enough fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If baby gets too much milk and not enough solids, she may become constipated. Talk to your pediatrician to determine if she may be drinking too much milk, and if so, cut down on the amount
- For babies who are at least a few months old, try a half tsp. of brown sugar or 1 tsp. of Karo corn syrup mixed with 2 oz purified or bottled water. Sugar is a traditional remedy for loosening baby’s stools. However, stop giving the sugar water once constipation clears, as you want your baby to get nutrient-dense calories in her diet, and not just sugar. Honey is not to be given to a child under 12 months of age, due to the danger of botulism
- Give a baby who’s six months or older 1-2 oz of prune, pear or apple juice diluted with water; you can give her this daily until constipation clears, or continue to give her juices to prevent future constipation
- Try giving your older baby prunes, peaches, pears or peas, all of which soften stools
- Give baby a mixed-grain cereal, as rice cereal can constipate her
- Try giving your baby a 10- or 20-minute warm bath; the water will place gentle pressure on her tummy
- Massage baby’s belly: lay her on her back; apply gentle steady pressure with your fingertips just below navel for a couple of minutes. You can also apply gentle pressure with your fingertips below the navel, starting on the left side of the belly (as you face baby) and moving little by little to the right side. This will help push the stool through the large intestine. Keep in mind that a baby can have runny stool and still be constipated, if the watery stool happens to sneak past the blocked part. By massaging the baby’s belly, you may be able to feel the bump and push it along
- If you are nursing, try eating prunes and drinking lots of water — and you may just end your little one’s constipation
- Dip a cotton swab in petroleum jelly, then insert only the tip inside baby’s anus, gently circling swab around anus a few times; many moms report that stool comes right out after this procedure is performed
By Lisa Pecos