How to Identify and Treat the Symptoms of Baby Constipation

Pain and discomfort is no fun for anyone at all, especially not for a baby and certainly not for the parents. Equally as unenjoyable is when the parents do not know the cause for their child’s distress or how to soothe their baby.

Signs your baby may be suffering from constipation

Usually the most common time for a baby to experience constipation is soon after solids are introduced. That being said, here is a list of the signs you should watch out for:

  1. If your newborn is passing solid stools less than once a day, this could technically be termed constipation. At the same time, if they seem to be suffering constant pain around making bowel movements, even if they are more frequent, or the stools seem very hard and dry, you should consult with your health care professional.
  2. If your child is older, look out for stomach aches and irritability.
  3. Stomach pains that only seem to go away once the baby has passed a bowel movement
  4. A hard abdomen that only softens after a bowel movement.
  5. Are your child’s stools more reminiscent of those passed by a rabbit, i.e. very hard, dry, and deep brown?
  6. Does your baby have bloody stools? A small cut or tear in the anus can cause constipation. If the newborn feels pain when trying to pass a bowel movement, this may cause them to associate defecation with pain, this may lead to constipation.

Please note that most babies strain a little when they pass a bowel movement, even if they are breastfeeding. Also remember that if your baby is not passing stools often, but seems relaxed when they do and the stools are not too hard or dry, this may simply be their pattern. If you are worried, you should never be too shy to ask your health care professional for advice.

Reasons baby constipation may occur

If the child is formula fed and is suffering constipation, it is very possible that the formula has not been mixed properly. It is possible that there is not enough water and too much powder in the bottle. Here is a list of questions to ask yourself in order to find a possible cause of baby constipation in your child.

If the wrong scoop was used or used incorrectly, the ratio of formula to water may be incorrect. In the event that you have recently changed which type of formula or milk you are using, the child may be having a reaction to this change.

Treatment options

If, indeed, your child is constipated, you should not simply give them syrup of figs or any other laxative and hope it goes away. You must consult with your health care professional to find out the best and safest way to treat this problem without making any rash decisions or using any “old wives remedies.” That being said, there are certain preventative measures that you can take to avoid the development of baby constipation.

Remedies for newborn babies

Newborn constipation is quite rare, especially if your child is breastfed. It is more likely to occur, if anything, among formula-fed babies. However, in the rare cases that baby constipation does occur in a breastfed baby, it may possibly be because the baby is not receiving enough milk.

A tummy massage may help to relieve baby constipation. You can apply this technique by gently massaging the stomach in a circular motion. Only continue this if the child enjoys the massage and is comfortable. A warm bath is another option which may assist the child’s bowels to relax. Placing your child on their back and rotating their legs into a circular motion can also promote a bowel movement. An increase of fluids with some warm water is another way to effectively stimulate your child’s bowel

Remedies for older infants

Recommended constipation treatment and preventative measures for an older infant are as follows:

  • Add fibre in your child’s diet: Add a small amount of bran to your baby’s cereal to add fibre. It is advisable to ask your health care provider before you do so, however, because overdoing it could have the opposite effect. Check our healthy baby food recipes for more information.
  • Give prune juice: Some people recommend giving the baby prune juice. Once again, this should only be done in conjunction with medical advice as this could also have the effect of ‘dynamite and broken bottles’ if overdone.
  • Give more liquids: Lack of fluids can be a very basic cause of constipation. Make sure that your child is drinking enough fluids, especially in the summer or if you live in a hot country.
  • Check baby’s diet: Look into the solid foods that your infant is eating. How many bananas? How much rice? Maybe you need to cut down on some of these and introduce the baby to more fruits and vegetables instead.
  • Bicycle exercise: If all else fails, and your baby is really upset, try moving their legs up and down to see if this will ‘nudge’ the solid matter slightly further along the intestine and ease the pain.
  • Tummy massage: Try a gentle tummy massage, rubbing in a clockwise direction.
  • Warm bath: Another form of constipation relief is a warm bath, which can help the necessary muscles relax. Don’t be upset if the baby ends up passing the stool while in the bath. At least the pain and discomfort will be relieved!

Where to get help?

If you are not satisfied with our answers, or your question was not answered here, you can contact your doctor or your baby’s health care provider to be sure. Also, you can try these contact numbers below:

  1. The Maternal and Child Health Line (24 hours) Tel. 13 22 29
  2. Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) T: T: 02 6163 5200 F: 02 6282 9888 T: 1800 812 942
  3. The Royal Children’s Hospital Tel. (03) 9345 5522
  4. Parentline (24 hours) Tel. 13 22 89
  5. NSW Health Multicultural Health Communication Service – for multilingual child health fact sheets 02 9816 0347

You can also check our write-up about When to call a doctor to know when to seek emergency care.

Constipation need not become an obsession or constant worry. After all, many adults will have an odd episode of constipation here and there without it being the sign of serious condition. Obviously, if you are taking all the correct measures but your baby is still chronically constipated, this is a matter that needs to be discussed with your doctor.

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