Constipation is common and effects 5-30% of children . While constipation in babies can cause some discomfort, in most cases it will resolve naturally.
How can I tell if my baby is constipated?
Just like adults, baby’s bowel movements can differ from one baby to the next. Within the first three months of life, infants can pass anywhere from 5 to 40 bowel motions per week. Constipation in babies involves changes in the texture and consistency of the stools, as well as the frequency at which they are produced.
Signs of constipation in babies:
- Dry, hard stools which can be difficult and painful to pass.
- A hard, bloated belly.
- Loss of appetite. Baby’s appetite should return once a substantial bowel movement has been passed.
- Bright red blood in your baby’s nappy. While the sight of blood may cause panic in the parent, bright red blood is usually a result of tiny tears in the skin around the bottom caused by passing a hard stool.
- Increased crying and irritability due to discomfort and straining while trying to pass a stool .
When is constipation a sign of something more serious?
In some instances, constipation in babies may be caused by allergies, absorption problems or structural bowel problems. Always seek the advice of your paediatrician if you are concerned or notice any of the following signs:
- Blood in the stool.
- Restricted growth, weight loss and lethargy.
- Skin rashes, red eyes, mouth ulcers.
- Constipation before 1 months of age .
What causes constipation in babies?
- Infant formula – the lack of prebiotic fibre in some infant formulas may contribute to constipation as it has been shown that fibre (as prebiotic) in infant formulas has a stool softening effect .
- Introducing solids – it is not uncommon for babies to experience constipation when they begin solids, as their bodies learn how to manage new foods.
- Low fibre diet – eating processed foods and not enough wholegrains, fruits and vegetables can cause constipation due to lack of fibre .
- Dehydration – if it is a warm day or baby has been unwell, dehydration can occur which causes the stool to dry and harden, leading to constipation.
- Antibiotics – antibiotics kill the natural intestinal flora which are needed for healthy bowel function. Constipation after antibiotics may occur due to lack of beneficial bacteria present in the gut .
How to manage constipation
If baby is less than 12 months old, it is a good idea to talk to your paediatrician about your concerns.
- Massage and movement – to help relax baby’s muscle and encourage a bowel movement, try gently moving your baby’s legs in a bicycling motion. You can also gently massage baby’s tummy to stimulate the digestive system.
- Extra fluids – for breastfed babies, try offering more feeds throughout the day. For formula fed babies, offer some cooled boiled water in between feeds.
- Prune juice – for babies over the age of 6 months, you can offer some prune juice diluted with water (one-part juice to 10 parts water).
- Fibre – if baby is on solids, include fibre rich foods and purees such a fruits and vegetables with the skin on and wholegrains such as brown rice .
- Probiotics – an infant probiotic may assist with constipation especially if baby has taken antibiotics .
- Prebiotics – if formula feeding, it may be helpful to switch to a formula that contains prebiotic fibre such as galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) .
- 2018. Constipation. Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Kids Health Info. www.rch.org.au
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