Let’s talk about poo… or the lack of it – baby constipation! As parents, we’ve all heard, and probably shared our baby poo stories. The ones about ‘exploding’ nappies and poo episodes which literally go from head to toe, and every possible place in between! But what about the other end of the poo spectrum – the absence of poo?
There’s no normal number or consistent schedule for baby bowel movements. Just like adults, their poo patterns will vary, and the colour and texture of their poo will change from day to day. If your baby is pooping regularly, it’s probably a sign that they are feeding well and getting rid of the waste. It’s understandable then, that baby constipation can be concerning for parents.
Signs of Constipation
Nobody knows your baby better than you. You probably recognise the sounds and movements they make when they’re tired or hungry. You perhaps also recognise your baby’s signs that they’re about to have a poo – the red face, the grunts, the squeaks and the little wriggles? And you’ll also become very familiar with what looks normal. Check out our good poo guide though, if you’re at all confused by poo!
Look for these symptoms of constipation in babies:
• Crying and discomfort before they poo
• Passing dry, hard pellets like rabbit droppings (even if they’re frequent)
• Having less than three poos in a week
• Particularly nasty smelling wind and poo
• Loss of appetite
If your baby is straining to do a poo, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are constipated, and as strange as it sounds a runny poo can be a sign of baby constipation. Liquid poo can slip its way past a hard poo blockage in the lower intestine.
Your baby should be gaining weight and have plenty of both wet and dirty nappies. If your baby is under 8 weeks and hasn’t done a poo for two or three days, speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP, especially if they’re gaining weight slowly.
What causes constipation in babies?
Milk matters: A breastfed baby is less likely to become constipated than a baby who is fed with formula. This is because formula is harder to digest than breastmilk.
Under the weather: If your baby is teething or unwell, they might be refusing food and drink. This can cause them to become a little dehydrated which in turn leads to constipation.
Changing the menu: Don’t be surprised if your baby gets a little constipated when you begin weaning as their little tummies learn to manage new foods. Low fibre foods and taking on fewer fluids can also contribute to constipation.
Medical conditions: occasionally babies can suffer from constipation as a symptom of a food allergy, food poisoning or a metabolic disorder. Very rarely, constipation can be caused by congenital conditions. Speak to your health practitioner if you’re at all worried.
How to help a constipated baby?
You should always check with your health visitor or doctor before trying any baby constipation relief treatments on your baby as the causes and treatments change as your little one grows. They may ask you to bring your baby in for an examination.
Here are a few home treatments which they may suggest trying to get things moving:
• Gently move your baby’s legs in a bicycling motion or gently rub their tummy.
• If you’re bottle feeding, make sure you’re using the recommended amount of formula powder when making up feeds as too much powder can dehydrate your baby. Your health visitor might recommend switching formula brand.
• If your baby has started solids, give them plenty of water and try some diluted fruit juice.
• If your baby is eating solids, adding plenty of fibre to your baby’s diet might help relieve constipation. Try pureed or chopped apples, prunes, pears, grapes, blueberries, plums, raspberries, strawberries, beans and pulses as these are all high in fibre. You could also add a small amount of high-fibre cereal to their usual breakfast. Be aware though that too much fibre will have the opposite effect… yep, diarrhoea! And that too many grainy foods can fill your toddler up and they won’t have room for other healthy foods and become deficient in another vitamin quickly. (Always remember to chop up fruit and remove pips and stones to avoid the risk of choking.)
• And don’t forget water! Give them plenty of extra cooled, boiled water between feeds. Don’t be tempted to dilute their formula more than is recommended though.
Try not to worry too much if your baby gets a little constipated from time to time. Although not nearly as pleasant as documenting their changing and emerging personalities, keeping an eye on their poo is important.