Constipation is when your poo (stools or faeces) is too hard and dry to pass out of the colon. Constipation can affect everyone, adults, and babies alike, and can be painful and distressing to experience.
There is nothing worse than seeing your baby crying in pain as their little faces screw up and go bright red while trying to pass a stool. You feel helpless that you can't ease their discomfort. We thought we'd have a look at the things you can do to help your baby poop and keep their stools soft and healthy. If you are still pregnant, believe us, poo will take over your life once your baby is born!
What is normal poo like?
Well, let's talk about poo in depth. The consistency of your baby's poo will depend on their food. When babies are born, the first couple of poos are often dark and sticky (known as meconium).
If you breastfeed your baby, it won't be long before you become familiar with 'pumpkin poo,' which is bright orange in colour. It's normal. Formula-fed babies often have slightly darker coloured poos than their breastfed counterparts, but they are healthy if they are relatively soft.
A breastfed baby's poo can change colour depending on what the mother is eating, so don't worry if you suddenly see a bright green poo in the nappy; it may be that large spinach salad you ate for lunch.
As you introduce solids into your baby's diet, their poo will change again. It will be hard, and less 'explosive' as your baby's digestive system matures.
How often should my baby poo?
Babies don't always poo every day. Some parents immediately think their baby is constipated if they go a day or two without a bowel movement, but that's not always the case.
Breastfed babies tend to have relatively loose and runny stools in the first few months. They will get a bit firmer and less frequent over time. There is also significant variation in how much breastfed babies poo. Some poo several times a day, and some may poo only once or twice a week. This whole range is normal.
Formula-fed babies tend to have slightly firmer poo than breastfed babies, and typically they have fewer bowel movements.
Once solids are introduced (at about six months of age), poo will become firmer again.
These different poo consistencies are part of your baby's normal development; you should seek medical advice when there is a significant change.
What are the signs of constipation?
The most significant indication of constipation is hard, dry, or crumbly poo. Other signs can be:
- Your baby cries and looks uncomfortable while trying to poo. (Keep in mind that some straining is normal when babies poo; by itself, straining is not a sign of constipation.)
- The poo or wind smells terrible (worse than usual).
- Your baby has lost its appetite.
- Your baby has a hard belly.
If the poo is very hard, when they attempt to pass it through their bowels, it can cause tiny tears (fissures) in the bottom (anus). These minor tears can bleed and cause your baby more pain and discomfort.
What causes constipation?
When a baby experiences constipation, the most common cause is a lack of fluid in their diet. Once the poo gets hard, it is painful to pass, making the baby reluctant to poo as it hurts. This withholding of poo can make constipation even worse.
Other factors can also increase the chance of constipation:
- A change in your baby’s environment — such as travel, hot weather, or stress — can also affect bowel function.
- Some medications can contribute to constipation. These can be medications you're giving your baby or ones you are taking (and passing on to them through your breast milk. Speak to your doctor about any medications you are taking).
- An allergy to cow's milk can cause constipation – if your baby is old enough to have a diary, you can ask your doctor to test them to see if they have an allergy.
- Some medical conditions can cause constipation.
What can you do to help your baby poop?
If your baby is breastfed, you could try feeding them more often. Consult your doctor or child health nurse for more advice.
If your baby is formula-fed, double-check you are mixing correctly. Ensure you're using the scoop provided with the tin of formula you are using — different brands can have different-sized scoops, affecting the consistency and fluid content.
Only lightly pack the scoop, and level it off with the back on a knife (or the leveller provided). Add the water to the bottle first, then add the power on top.
If your baby is eating solids (from age six months), offer them extra water between their regular meals.
Note: Don't give your baby any medicine for constipation unless they are advised or prescribed by a doctor.
Give them high fibre solid foods.
If your baby is over six months and eating solid foods, try to ensure they eat high fibre meals. Some solid foods can cause constipation, but others can help avoid it. If you recently started feeding your baby solid foods, try adding high-fibre foods, such as:
- skinless apples
These are all known to be beneficial for constipation. Instead of processed, refined cereal, or puffed rice, try to offer cooked grains, such as barley, oats, or quinoa in stews or soups. Whole-grain bread, crackers, and bran cereals also add bulk to stool, which can help clear constipation.
Consider using stewed or pureed fruits and vegetables as snacks instead of dairy. They will help ease constipation and expand your baby's palate.
Up the fluids
As with adults, proper hydration is essential for regular bowel movements. Ensuring your baby gets enough fluid throughout the day will help keep constipation at bay.
Check the urine colour in your baby's nappy to understand how hydrated they are. If the wet patch is pale yellow, they are well hydrated. If the urine is dark yellow or light brown, they need more fluid.
And remember, always talk to your doctor before giving a baby under six months anything besides breast milk or formula. If your baby is exclusively breastfed and won't take a bottle, you may be able to use a dropper to drip extra fluid into their mouths.
If your baby is eating solid foods, try adding more water to their meals, making more stews and soups.
While 'manual stimulation' may sound daunting, all you will be doing is trying to encourage natural colon contractions in your little one. Adults with constipation are often told to exercise to help 'move things along.'
Babies can't walk, but you can help mimic exercise through the following methods:
- Lay your baby on your Ludere baby play mat and move their legs in a gentle cycling motion. This cycling movement helps stimulate their bowels, so make sure they are wearing a nappy, or you may experience a messy surprise!
- Gently massage your baby's tummy round and round. Not only will this help 'move things along, but it's a lovely opportunity for some eye contact and bonding time with your little one.
- Prepare a warm bath as this can help their muscles relax. Again, this can stimulate the bowels, so don't be surprised if your baby does a poo in the bath!
Call your health professional if you have tried the basics but are still concerned that your baby might be constipated. In most cases, constipation will clear on its own or with a natural treatment or two, but the worry and stress it can cause parents are not to be dismissed.
If you have any concerns at all, ask for help. A GP can identify other signs and symptoms (such as fever) that could indicate a more significant problem requiring medical treatment.
Very rarely, constipation is a sign of an underlying health problem. If a baby under six weeks is constipated, you will need an assessment by a doctor to exclude an underlying condition.
We recommend you take your baby to a doctor or seek help from a midwife or child health nurse if:
- Their poo is dry and crumbly or like tiny pellets
- They appear to be in pain
- They show discomfort when trying to pass a poo
- They have blood in their poo
- They are vomiting
- They have a fever
- Their belly is swollen
With most cases of constipation in babies, home remedies are the first place to start. However, if nothing you are doing is making a difference, a doctor may examine the baby and, in rare cases, prescribe medications, such as:
Note: you should only give these medications under the strict guidance of your health professional.
It's always distressing when you can't settle your baby and ease their pain. But there are plenty of resources around to help you cope with every step of the parenting journey – don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
Having a baby is one of the most challenging things you'll experience, so know that you are doing a great job just by being here, reading this article.
Constipation isn’t fun for anyone at any age, but you can help avoid it in the future by sticking to a high fibre diet, eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and making sure your baby does the same.
Ludere – play in style
Here at Ludere, we are passionate about babies. We created our range of luxury play mats to have a clean, beautiful place to lay our babies down for nappy-free time and tummy time.
Use our play mats to help your baby get through their constipation and start smiling and exploring their surroundings once again.
Choose Ludere for your luxurious and versatile baby play mats in Australia.