How to Help a Constipated Baby

A baby laying on their back.

Babies can sometimes experience tummy troubles, especially when new or solid foods start getting added to their regular diet. Here are the causes and signs of constipation that new parents should be on the lookout for in their little ones and what they can do to help relieve any distress that constipation may be causing.

Causes of Constipation in Babies 

Babies typically develop constipation as a result of their diet, and this is relatively normal if it only happens on occasion. If you believe that your baby might be experiencing repeated constipation issues, however, you should consider talking with their pediatrician. Discuss the type of baby formula you use, any diet changes your baby has recently gone through, potential allergies to soy or dairy, and the potential for dehydration. All of these elements can contribute to the development of constipation issues in babies. 

However, be sure to keep in mind that young babies who only consume breast milk may not experience a bowel movement every day. In contrast, formula-fed babies may have bowel movements as little as once every few days or as frequently as three to four times per day.

Related: How to Get a Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Symptoms of Constipation in Babies

There are many constipation signs in infants that parents should be on the lookout for to help keep their baby happy and healthy. These symptoms typically include:

Lack of bowel movements

The number of bowel movements that a baby goes through each day will change over time, especially as new foods are gradually introduced into their diets. But if your baby goes more than a few days without pooping and then has a tough stool (which will be explored more below), they may be suffering from constipation.

Hard/clay-like or bloody stool

A lack of bowel movements aren’t the only indication of constipation. Once your baby does go, you need to consider the consistency of their poop as well. If it’s hard, clay-like, or bloody, then they are likely experiencing a constipation issue.

Stiff stomach

A firm, stiff, or full-feeling tummy may be a sign that your baby is constipated since that can often result in a buildup of pressure and bloating in the stomach.

Lack of appetite

If your baby is not eating or getting full very quickly, it’s possible that they may be constipated. If they are outright refusing to eat, it may be due to a feeling of growing discomfort caused by their inability to complete a bowel movement.

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Solutions for Constipation in Babies

A baby laying on her tummy next to a dog.

If your baby is currently experiencing issues with constipation, try not to worry too much. There are plenty of home remedies that can be used to help regulate their bowel movements and reduce any discomfort that they may be feeling. Give these tricks a try to see how they can help ease your little one back into being their bubbly little self.

Exercise

Movement can speed up the digestion process, so encourage your little one to exercise each day to help them establish more regular bowel movements. If your baby isn’t quite walking yet, consider helping them out with a few rounds of leg bicycles.

Massaging your baby’s stomach

Gently massaging your little one’s tummy and lower abdomen can stimulate the bowels and encourage bowel movements. Give your baby several of these throughout the day until they are finally able to go.

Dietary changes and fruit juice

While some solid foods like bananas, rice, and dairy can cause constipation in babies, other foods can improve it. Consider adding foods like prunes, pears, peaches, broccoli, or skinless apples to their diet to ease any constipation issues. Fruit juice can also help unclog your little one’s pipes. A small quantity of pure apple juice, for example, can help to soften your little one’s stool.

Supplemental hydration

Ensure that your baby is kept adequately hydrated with plenty of water and milk. Dehydration can make it difficult for regular bowel movements to occur, so always be sure that you’re giving them enough fluids.

Warm bath

A warm, gentle bath can help relax your baby’s abdominal muscles, encouraging them to stop straining while relieving some of the discomfort they may feel due to constipation. 

Rectal thermometer

Using a clean, well-lubricated rectal thermometer can help your baby pass their stool if they’re experiencing constipation. Be sure not to use this technique too often, though, and only as a last resort. Otherwise, your little one may become dependent on you to help them with their bowel movements or start making negative associations between bowel movements and discomfort.

Related: Toddler not pooping? Here's what to do

When to be Concerned?

A top-down view of a baby crawling on a white puppy blanket.

While general constipation in babies is relatively standard and is nothing to be overly concerned about, there are cases when constipation can be a sign of something more serious that will require a medical professional’s intervention. If your baby has gone for over three days without a bowel movement, contact your regular pediatrician, but call sooner if your baby is also exhibiting a weak suckle, a weak cry, or appears to be ill.

If these issues persist, doctors may need to check for these three rare conditions:

  1. Hirschsprung’s disease: A congenital disability that causes the nerves in the rectum to not develop properly. This issue can be corrected with surgery.
  2. Hypothyroidism: A curable condition that develops due to an underactive thyroid gland. This condition must be treated, or it can potentially result in slowed mental development
  3. Infantile botulism: A type of rare bacterial infection that involves multiple days of progressive weakness that can potentially lead to paralysis. This disease is caused by botulism spores found in liquid-like sweets, like corn syrup and honey

Related: Why Does My Baby Cry So Much?

Conclusion

It’s normal for babies to occasionally experience some tummy troubles, especially as they get older and their diets evolve. Keep an eye on these different symptoms and signs, and don’t forget to try out some of these home remedies if you see your little one struggling with bowel movements. But don’t be afraid to reach out to your regular pediatrician if any of these issues persist. It's possible that your doctor may need to run some tests to ensure that your baby is as happy and healthy as possible.

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