If you are a parent, you probably watch your baby’s every laugh, hiccup, and cry for clues about their well-being. Some signs of a problem, though, can be a little more difficult to detect. Bowel movements, for example, will change a lot over the course of your baby’s life. From time to time those changes may indicate a sign that your baby is constipated.
A baby who exclusively consumes breast milk may not have a bowel movement every day. Often nearly all of the nutrients are absorbed. This is very common. Formula fed babies, on the other hand, may pass up to three to four bowel movements in a day. Still, normal bowel movement patterns in healthy babies vary widely and are greatly affected by type of milk, whether solids have been introduced, and what specific foods are being consumed. Understanding the possible signs of constipation can help you detect a potential issue before it becomes a big problem.
Learn more about common signs of constipation.
Infrequent Bowel Movements
The number of bowel movements a child has each day will fluctuate, especially as you introduce them to new foods. If your child goes more than a few days without a bowel movement, they may be experiencing constipation.
If your child is straining to use the bathroom, this may be a sign of constipation. Constipated babies often produce very hard, clay-like stools. Hard stools can be difficult to pass, so they may push or strain more than usual to pass the waste. They may also be fussy and cry when having a bowel movement.
Blood in the Stool
If you notice streaks of bright red blood on your child’s stool, it is likely a sign that your child is pushing very hard to have a bowel movement. Pushing and straining may cause tiny tears around the anal walls, which can result in blood in the stool.
A taut tummy could be a sign of constipation. Bloating and pressure caused by constipation may make your child’s stomach feel full or stiff.
Refusing to Eat
Your baby may feel full quickly if they are constipated. They may also refuse to eat because of growing discomfort.
If you notice signs of constipation, you can try several strategies to offer your baby relief. These include:
Switch Up the Milk
If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you can try adjusting your diet. Your baby may be sensitive to something you’re eating, which could be causing the constipation. Bottle-fed babies may benefit from a different type of formula, at least until the constipation clears. Sensitivity to certain ingredients can cause constipation.
Use Solid Foods
Some solid foods can cause constipation, but others can also improve it. If you recently started feeding your baby solid foods, try adding a few high-fiber foods, such as:
- skinless apples
Instead of refined cereal or puffed rice, offer cooked grains, such as barley, oats, or quinoa. Whole-grain breads, crackers, and bran cereals also add a lot of bulk to stool, which may help clear the constipation.
Use Pureed Foods
If your baby has not made the transition to solid foods yet, try some of the foods listed above in their pureed form. Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables have a lot of natural fiber that will add bulk to your child’s stool. Some are better than others at helping stimulate a bowel movement.
Up the Fluids
Proper hydration is essential for regular bowel movements. Water and milk are great for keeping your baby hydrated. Prune and pear juice may help speed up your child’s colon contractions, which can help your baby produce a bowel movement more quickly. If the juice is too sweet or tangy for your baby’s palate, try diluting it in a cup of water.
Movement speeds up digestion, which can help move things through the body more quickly. If your child isn’t walking yet, leg bicycles and other movements may be helpful instead of walks.
Gentle stomach and lower abdomen massages may stimulate the bowels to pass a bowel movement. Do several massages throughout the day, until your child has a bowel movement.
Switching up things in your child’s diet (or your own) will almost certainly help, but if it doesn’t, there are other techniques you can use. Many of these techniques you can do at home, but if you have not used them before, you should consult your doctor. They will want to offer you specific instructions.
These techniques include:
Using your finger, a rectal thermometer, or a cotton swab, gently press on the rectum. The stimulation can quickly produce a bowel movement.
If your baby has signs of a rectal tear (bright red blood in the stool), a glycerin suppository may be helpful for easing a bowel movement out of the body. These suppositories can be purchased over the counter and used at home. Follow the instructions on the package or ask your doctor for best practices when using one for the first time.
Over-the-counter laxatives for babies may be helpful when other techniques do not work. Laxatives made from a malt-barley extract (Maltsupex) or psyllium powder (Metamucil) can soften your child’s stool, which may help produce a bowel movement.
If you are confused or concerned at any point, don’t hesitate to call your child’s pediatrician. In almost all cases, your child’s constipation will clear on its own or with a natural treatment or two. If those strategies don’t work, asking your doctor for advice or suggestions will be helpful. Your doctor will also be able to help you spot other signs and symptoms (such as fever) that could be an indication of a larger problem that may require medical treatment.