How to Help a Constipated Baby
Like Grandma said, “it’s important to stay regular,” and that’s especially true for babies. Fortunately, breast-fed babies almost never get constipated, or hard stools. They may skip a few days between poops, but even then, the consistency is pasty to loose. Bottle-fed babies on the other hand, can get hard poop, but a couple of commonsense ideas can usually correct the problem and provide baby constipation relief.
What to Do if Your Baby Is Constipated
- Change formula. Starting a new formula may resolve constipation. Some infants have softer stools when they drink formula from concentrate versus powder based (or vice versa). Ask your baby’s doctor for guidance.
- Slightly dilute the mix. Your baby’s poops may improve when you add a tablespoon or organic adult prune juice or one ounce of water into the formula, once or twice a day (never dilute the formula more than that).
Note: Never give honey or corn syrup as a laxative, before the first birthday.
- Open the door. Babies trying to poop often have trouble tightening their stomach muscles and relaxing the rectum at the same time. They accidentally clutch the anus–when they should be relaxing it–and consequently, they strain to poop! To help “loosen” your baby’s anus, bicycle her legs and massage her bottom. If this fails, insert a Vaseline-greased thermometer or cotton swab–just one-half to one inch–into the anus. Babies usually respond by grunting and pushing the object out…often pushing poop out at the same time.
When is Baby Constipation a Sign of Something Serious?
After the first couple of weeks, babies usually settle into a pretty good pooping routine. For bottle-fed babies, that schedule is 1-2 times a day. Breast-fed babies may actually skip a day or so in between bowel movements. In fact, by 1 month of age, they sometimes go a week or two without having a stool!
When should you be concerned? The best rule is to call your baby’s doctor if more than 3 days pass without a stool. Call even sooner if your baby has a weak cry, weak suck, or is acting ill.
The doctor may want to do an evaluation for three rare disease that can masquerade as constipation:
- Hypothyroidism: A totally curable condition caused by an underactive thyroid gland. If left untreated, hypothyroidism is a serious problem because it may slow mental development.
- Hirschsprung’s disease: This rare problem occurs when the nerves in the rectum don’t develop properly. The baby’s rectal muscles tightly clench–unable to relax–which blocks the poop from passing and causes an intestinal obstruction. Fortunately, this problem can be corrected with surgery.
- Infantile botulism: A rare disease in babies under one year of age characterized by the sudden onset of weakness and paralysis. It’s caused by botulism spores hiding in liquidy sweets, such as honey or corn syrup. For this reason, these should never be given to babies under one year of age.