How to help a constipated baby

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by Catriona Watson |

Worrying about your baby's health when you can tell something isn't quite right with them can be stressful. If your baby isn’t pooing as often as normal and seems distressed, they may be struggling with constipation.

We’ve all been there. Not being able to go to the loo can leave you pretty uncomfortable – and the same goes for little ones. Even though it’s so hard to see your baby upset, the condition is common and can be dealt with. Find out the causes of baby constipation, the symptoms and how to help a constipated baby.

What causes baby constipation?

The NHS suggests several potential reasons for baby or infant constipation:

• They aren't eating enough high-fibre foods like fruit and veg

• They aren't drinking enough

• They are having problems with potty (or toilet) training

• They are worried or anxious about something, such as moving house, starting nursery or the arrival of a new baby

Dehydration is a very common cause of constipation in newborns, especially when the weather is warm. As well as this, weaning, introducing solids or new foods can also temporarily cause constipation while your baby’s body learns how to manage them.

Constipation in infants may also be caused by a milk protein intolerance or allergy. If breastfeeding, the milk protein can be passed through the breast milk from the mother's diet. Once you do begin weaning or introducing solid foods, a milk allergy will become more apparent as dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese will trigger a reaction.

Is my baby more likely to be constipated on formula?

‘Babies on formula are also more likely to become constipated than breastfed ones because formula milk is harder to digest,’ explains GP Philippa Kaye, author of Baby & Child Health: Everything You Need To Know.

As formula milk is harder to digest, it produces more fully formed poos which can be harder for your little one to pass. If you change brands, similarly to introducing new foods, this can cause constipation while your baby's body gets used to the formula. If your baby has a milk protein allergy or intolerance, a milk-based formula may cause the baby to become constipated.

What are the baby constipation symptoms?

Obviously, the most obvious newborn constipation sign is your baby not passing poo as often as usual. What is normal varies from child to child but within time, you'll get a pretty good idea of what is normal for your little one. As a rough guideline, the NHS says your newborn may be constipated if they don't poo at least three times a week. It is quite common for a baby's bowel movements to change once they move to solid foods - they could go from pooing three or four times a day to just once.

Another sign of constipation can be your baby straining or finding it painful or difficult to poo, which may cause them to make little grunting noises. ‘They may also be distressed, seem uncomfortable or strain to open their bowels, and do small, hard, pellet-like poos’ says Philippa. If your baby does find it painful, they may also hold back from pooing which can cause a vicious circle. Other symptoms to look out for are a hard stomach, stomach pain, gassy and refusing food.

If your child is potty trained and they start to soil their pants with diarrhoea this could be a sign of constipation. When runny poo leaks out around the hard or constipated poo this is called overflow soiling.

Read more: Prune juice for constipated babies and toddlers

How to help a constipated baby

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1) Breastfeeding

If you are solely breastfeeding, ensure they are feeding regularly and you give them breast on demand. Breastfed babies do not require any other drinks.

‘If your child is younger and breastfed, they don’t need extra water, even in hot weather,’ says Philippa. ‘Although they may need more breast milk, which adapts to their needs – for example, if the weather is warm, your milk can become more watery to give the fluids your baby needs.’

If your baby is suffering from constipation and you are concerned, it is always best to contact your doctor or health visitor.

For more information and support:

• Read up on the NHS guidelines on constipation in babies and young children

• Check out The Children's Bowel and Bladdery Charity's website ERIC or contact their helpline on 0845 370 8008.

• Take a look at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline on constipation in children and young people.

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