You probably have had times in your life when it has been hard to go to the bathroom.  Well, babies have this problem, too!  And while it may sound strange, it is not always easy to tell if a baby is constipated.  However, there are some signs to look for – and lots of ways to make a baby feel better if this problem comes up.

Baby Poo: What’s Normal and What is Not

Despite the fact that your parents have to change a lot of diapers, many babies who are healthy and who are being breastfed don’t actually poop that much! This is because breastmilk is the perfect food for a growing baby and most of its nutrients are absorbed into the baby’s system, leaving little leftover. So for breastfed babies, there really is no “normal” schedule when it comes to a pooping, but constipation is considered to be rare. For a baby on formula or who is eating some solid foods, however, they should be going around once a day. The number of times a baby poops can also be based on how active they are and how quickly their own system breaks down food and milk.

So when do you know if you might have a problem?  Parents should be concerned if a baby:

  • Seems to be in pain when going poo
  • Has poo that is hard, dry or like a pellet
  • Has to strain a lot to go poo
  • Is going poo less often than what is normal for them

What Causes Constipation in Babies?

There are many different things that can cause babies to become constipated. These include:

  • Starting to eat solid foods. Often, one of a baby’s first foods will be rice cereal which, though it is gentle on the stomach, is also very low in fiber.
  • When a baby starts to breastfeed less and eat more solid foods, they can sometimes not get enough to drink and become dehydrated. When this happens, the baby’s body will absorb more fluids from the food a baby eats and this can make their poo dry – and hard for the baby to get rid of.
  • In rare cases, a baby might have constipation because it has a medical problem that no one knows about. These can include Hirschsprung’s disease, a thyroid gland which is not producing enough hormones or cystic fibrosis.

How do You Treat Constipation in Babies?

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to help a baby who is constipated. These include:

  • Offering water in addition to breastmilk during feedings to make sure a baby is not getting dehydrated.
  • Adding prune juice to formula or breastmilk: it is recommended that a parent add 1 ounce of this for every month of life. For example, if a baby is three months old, a parent can introduce three ounces of prune juice. Prune juice is very high in fiber and can make it easier for a baby to go poop.  Some babies do not like the taste of prune juice, so parents can offer something like pear juice instead.
  • If a baby is already eating solid foods, parents should cut down on rice cereal as well as bananas, applesauce or cooked carrots, all of which can cause constipation. Instead, they should offer foods like barley cereal or mashed prunes or peas.
  • If a baby is on a formula, parents should talk to a doctor about switching from one brand to another. Some brands are more likely to cause constipation.
  • Parents can also gently massage the lower left half of a baby’s belly to help make it easier to go poo.
  • The more active a baby is, the easier it is to poop. If a baby is already crawling, parents should try to get them to crawl as much as possible.  If a baby is not old enough to crawl yet, it is good to lay a baby down on its back and pump its legs in a circular motion (as if it were riding a bicycle).
  • Sometimes, parents will have to use something called a glycerin suppository to treat their baby’s constipation. This is a soft substance that is shaped like a bullet and your parents will have to put in up the baby’s rectum (their butt) in order for it to work. This sounds pretty gross, but it is very easy to do and does not hurt the baby.

What Should Parents Not Do to Treat Constipation?

There are some things that parents should not do when their baby is constipated.  Parents should not:

  • Stop breastfeeding unless the doctor tells them to
  • Use other medications like mineral oil, stimulant laxatives or enemas to help a baby poop. These can help adults and older children with this problem, but are not good for babies.
  • Use glycerin laxatives too often; if they do, the baby will get to the point where it needs a suppository in order to poop at all!

Do Parents Have to Call the Doctor?

Usually, parents won’t have to call the doctor about constipation and can treat this problem right at home. However, they will probably have to take the baby in to see the doctor if that baby:

  • Is not eating well or seems to be losing weight
  • Has blood in its poop
  • Is not getting better with at-home treatment.

So now you have a low-down on babies and constipation.  While it can take some extra effort to get this problem taken care of, usually your parents can treat the baby right at home and get things back on track.