While we all know the definition of constipation for adults, it is important to be aware that the definition is slightly different for our little ones. Constipation in infants is more frequently defined as passing hard, dry (like small pellets) poo. Your baby may go red, grunt or cry during pooing but this doesn’t mean they are constipated, they may just be getting used to pooing and usually grow out of this. If your baby is fed infant formula, generally poo is thicker and pastier and sometimes less frequent than breast-fed poo but this doesn’t mean your baby has constipation.
Possible causes of constipation in infants
- Not enough fluid intake over the day. This may be due to illness, not enough feeds over the day, or hot weather causing fluid loss through sweat.
- Incorrect infant formula preparation. Incorrect ratios of powder and water may affect bowel habits.
- Changes to baby’s daily routine may impact on your babies eating patterns and fluid intake and in turn will affect their bowel habits. This may be due to changes in appetite or simply the logistics of fitting everything into a new routine.
- Introducing solids or changing formulas (such as moving to a follow-on formula) may lead to bowel changes. This does not happen in every case but is quite normal and can take some babies longer to adjust.
- Toilet training may have a big impact on bowel habits. As your infant is becoming more aware of their bowel movements you may find their toilet habits change. It is not uncommon for infants to hold on for prolonged periods if they aren’t completely comfortable with going to the toilet just yet. If this is the case, wait a few weeks or months before trying again. It takes time to master a new skill – there’s no rush.
What you can do to help
- Ensure adequate fluid intake over the day, this could be in the form of extra breastfeeds or offering cool boiled water to drink between feeds, particularly in hot weather.
- When your baby starts solids, they may need extra fluid, through extra breastfeeds or offering cooled boiled water to drink between meals.
- If your baby is on infant formula, ensure you are making the formula according to the directions on pack. Always use the scoop provided in the tin you are using.
- If there are any major changes to your baby’s normal routine, take extra notice of their appetite, extra cuddles and one-on-one play time may be needed to help them feel more settled in their new routine, which will help their appetite return.
- For infants over 6 months of age constipation can be reduced by increasing fruit and vegetables in your baby’s diet.
- If you feel your baby is not ready for toilet training and it’s affecting their bowel habits, wait a few weeks or months before trying again. It takes time to master a new skill – there’s no rush.
- Before any form of medication is used, diet and exercise are the primary keys to avoiding infant constipation. Always consult a medical professional before using any digestive aids (e.g. Oral laxatives or suppositories) with your baby.
- Gentle massage strokes below your baby’s belly button in a clockwise direction.
- Give your baby plenty of opportunities for tummy time, extra mobility will help get the bowels moving too.
- Do bicycle leg movements at nappy change time. This may be particularly helpful for very young babies who have limited mobility.
- Treatment from a specialised physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor may be able to help regulate bowel movements.
Often simple and effective treatments will usually get your baby’s bowel movements running like clockwork again in no time. Bear in mind that some babies (and adults, for that matter) are naturally more susceptible to constipation than others.
If the constipation is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek medical advice. Early intervention is always the best:
- Your baby’s stool contains blood;
- Your baby is in pain when passing a stool;
- Your baby is irritable
- Your baby has abdominal pain