As a new parent, you are trying to learn your baby’s language. You usually understand when your baby is happy, upset, fussy, cranky, or tired. But sometimes it becomes difficult to know when your baby is in distress! For example, your baby can not tell you if they have a problem pooping. Babies have weak abdominal muscles and sometimes have to strain to pass bowel movements if the poop is not soft. Your baby has constipation when she passes hard, pebble-like stools or cries when pooping.
Signs of constipation in babies
These little signs will help you understand whether your baby has constipation:
- Your baby is straining more than usual to pass stool.
- The poop is hard and in the shape of small pebbles.
- Your baby is excessively fussy and spits up milk more often.
- Your baby has fewer bowel movements.
- Your baby is feeding less than expected.
- There is a tear around the rectal area that bleeds when your baby poops.
- Your baby’s belly is bloated because of gas.
If a child is a little older, they may exhibit some of the following symptoms if they are constipated:
- When passing stool, there is pain.
- Unable to poop for more than three days.
- Crying while passing stools or if they are unable to pass even after more than 10 minutes of trying.
- Pain in the lower abdomen that ebbs and flows.
Gain a better understanding of changes in their stool and what it means for your baby, here.
Causes of constipation in babies
When poop stays in the colon (large intestine) for a long time, the water from the stools gets absorbed by the intestine, making the poop dry and hard to pass. This happens if your baby is not consuming enough fluids. Constipation is also common when you are weaning your baby off of milk and introducing solid foods. Any new change, such as travelling or any stress, can also trigger your baby’s constipation. Some babies have slow gut movement, which can lead to constipation. In some cases, lack of nerves in the intestine, structural problems in the lower large intestine or issues like hypothyroidism can cause it too. If your doctor suspects any of these conditions, you should get your baby tested.
In a toddler, constipation may occur if your child does not eat enough fibre, ignores the need to pass bowels, if he/she is still being toilet trained or has had a previous painful experience. Constipation in babies may also occur if your child is taking certain medicines. Some children may have constipation due to the slow movement of food in the intestines, which can run in the family.
How can you help your baby with constipation?
Making changes to your child’s lifestyle can help relieve constipation. Some home remedies for constipation in babies include giving the child extra water or juice in between feedings throughout the day. The juice sugar will help draw water into the colon, helping to loosen poop. If your baby has started eating solid foods, you can feed them high-fibre foods like peas, apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and spinach two times a day. Include at least three servings of vegetables each day in your baby’s diet.
Include less processed cereals such as bran cereals, shredded wheat, whole grain cereals, or oatmeal. Cereals like cornflakes and rice bubbles are highly processed and should be avoided. Multigrain or wholewheat bread is a healthier alternative to white bread.
If the baby is already going through constipation, you can raise your baby’s legs to the chest to imitate the natural squatting position or perform a pumping action on the left side of the belly. For slightly older children, stop toilet training if they get constipated and put diapers on them for some time and encourage them to pass their stools in diapers. If your baby is toilet trained, sit them on the toilet for a few minutes after each meal. In older children, squatting helps pass stools. You can also use a footstool if your child sits on the toilet. If your child is at least a year old, then you can give them stool-softeners or fibre products.
When to call the doctor?
Call or visit your doctor if your baby has:
- A fever, low appetite or repeated vomiting.
- Blood in the stool.
- Swollen belly.
- Does not pass bowel movement for more than three days and is formula-fed.
- Abdominal pain and is irritable.
Do not use laxatives, enemas, or stool softeners to treat your baby’s constipation without consulting your doctor.