Why is my baby constipated and what can I do?

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Constipation in babies

Constipation in babies is actually quite common, especially after they begin solids. Around one in three parents in the UK report constipation at some point in their child’s life.

If your baby is not pooing every day or their poo is hard, dry and compacted he may have constipation. If his poo is in distinct balls, this is constipation. If your baby is really straining to get poo out, that is a symptom as well (though all babies can go very red in the face when pooing). Breastfed babies rarely get constipation.

Why is my baby constipated?

The main reason for constipation in babies is lack of fluid and this can be due to a variety of reasons:

  1. The baby is not being breastfed
  2. The formula is not made with the correct amount of water
  3. Your baby not having enough to drink when solids are introduced
  4. The weather is warm and your baby is very active
  5. Fear of going to the toilet or potty (generally for toddlers, not babies)
  6. Poor diet generally.

It is important to realise that your baby’s poo will change in colour, smell and consistency once they begin eating solids, and this is normal but hard poo is not. If you think your baby has constipation you should speak to your health visitor or GP.

How do I treat my baby’s constipation?

Formula

Make sure you follow the instructions on the formula exactly. Do not throw in an extra scoop for “more energy” or “to fatten them up” – you’ll risk giving your baby constipation.

Liquids

If your older baby (who has started solids) becomes constipated try increasing fluids by offering him extra water or diluted fruit juice (five parts water and one part juice) between meals. Orange juice can work especially well for constipation.

Babies over six months need about 800ml of fluid every day. However, do not give them too much milk or squash as these can actually cause constipation.

An active baby in warm weather

If it’s warm, make sure your baby has lots of extra water.

Fear of going to the toilet/potty

This is more common with older toddlers who are starting potty training, but it’s worth mentioning. Some babies and children become stressed or anxious about pooing in their nappy or going to the potty or toilet. This might be because it’s hurt once or they’ve even torn the inside of their bottom while straining with a hard poo and they don’t want to go through that again. This may mean, if they have the muscular control, they might try to hold in their poo, which can literally compact the problem! If this happens, do everything you can – as outlined here – to make sure your baby’s fluid intake is good and his diet isn’t contributing to the problem. Do seek medical advice from your Children’s Centre, health visitor or GP, since the problem can get worse quite quickly and it can be very painful and frightening.

General diet

Increasing fruit for babies over six months can also help relieve constipation. Try apples, plums, prunes, apricots, peaches or raspberries. Very few of us manage to eat enough roughage and our ‘five a day’. The whole family should be eating lots of fruit and vegetables so it becomes a daily habit.

Gently massaging baby’s abdomen or moving their legs may also help stimulate bowels. The Essential Baby Care Guide DVD and App contain a full baby massage demonstration that can help with colic and may help to stimulate your baby to poo.

However, prevention is better than cure and the best way to avoid constipation in the first place is to offer lots of fluids, fruit and fibre in your weaned baby. Baked beans, frozen peas and sweetcorn are good and popular sources of fibre with children. A little bit of fresh orange juice in your baby’s milk or water can help soften stools. Lots of exercise also helps.

Are there more serious reasons my baby might be constipated?

There are a few, very rare, cases when the constipation is caused by other underlying conditions. These include:

  • Hirschsprung’s Disease, which affects the bowel, making it difficult to pass stools
  • Anorectal Malformation, where the baby’s anus and rectum don’t form properly
  • Spinal cord abnormalities, including rare conditions such as spina bifida and cerebral palsy
  • Cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that causes the body to produce thick and sticky mucus, which can lead to constipation

Any of these conditions, if suspected, must receive immediate medical attention from your GP.