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Keeping your baby regular – it’s not as hard as you think
From the minute your baby is born you’ll have poo on the brain (and other places). You’ll change nappy after nappy, stay up night after night and your grey matter will often revolve around their faecal matter (!). Is their poo too yellow, too green, too runny, too soft, too regular, not regular enough?! And that last one will certainly put the squeeze on your sleep.
But, you can relax. This hamster wheel of thinking is perfectly normal – just like your baby’s seemingly erratic bowel movements.
“Some newborns often don’t have a bowel motion for days and sometimes, up to a week.”
An infant’s digestive tract and intestines are still developing so bowel movements will differ from baby to baby.
However, constipation is quite rare in a baby who is only fed on breast milk. It’s more common in babies who have been introduced to solids and, sometimes, formula. However, if you’re concerned that your baby hasn’t had a poo for several days or more, by all means, speak with your GP or your child and family health nurse.
Red in the face
As an adult, you already know how unpleasant and painful being constipated can be. So when you see your baby blush hot red during a poo, naturally, you may leap to the constipation conclusion. However, this is what babies generally do with a number two. And unless they’re also crying and looking like they’re in real pain and discomfort, it’s unlikely they are constipated.
If you’re still unsure, here are some constipation symptoms you can look out for in your baby:
- hard, dry stools like pellets
- straining and crying during a bowel movement
- a tight belly
- not interested in feeding.
“Know your baby and you’ll know what their ‘normal’ bowel habits are. Your neighbour’s baby is not a guideline for what the ‘norm’ is.”
What causes constipation in babies?
The baby formula is ‘too strong’. Take care when mixing your baby’s bottle and make sure the formula to water ratio is correct. It’s easy to add a little extra powder but sometimes this can make all the difference. The formula label is always a good guide for your measurements.
Not enough feeds in a day. They may be new to the world, but babies need more than formula or breast milk especially on warmer days. A little cooled, boiled water between feeds is a great idea to keep your baby’s fluids up. Remember, breastfed babies sometimes need extra feeds during the day.
Inappropriate solids for their age group. When it comes time to weaning your baby onto solids, the temptation is to bulk up their diet with high fibre cereals and legumes but they aren’t always age-appropriate. Too many low-fibre solids can also trigger constipation like rice cereal.
If you’re in any doubt, just check in with your GP or paediatrician for guidance on the right solids your baby will thrive on and be nourished by when the time is right.
The breast or the bottle?
When it comes to regular bowel movements, babies that are exclusively on breast milk are less likely to be constipated – compared to formula-fed newborns. And here’s why:
“Breast milk is easier to digest and is considered a natural laxative.”
However, formula contains larger proteins that aren’t as easy to digest and can often cause constipation in newborns. And yet, even these are not absolute facts simply because each baby is as individual as their giggles and cries.
So what works beautifully for your infant may not work as well for your friend’s baby.
But whether you’re bottle or breastfeeding your baby, it’s worth noting these interesting facts too:
- Breastfed babies who don’t poo often are generally irregular because they are very likely absorbing all the nutrient-rich milk from their mothers
- Both formula-fed and breastfed babies are prone to constipation when they first try solids.
How to relieve constipation in babies
There are a few things you can try to give your baby relief.
Make the milk switch
If your baby is breastfed, tweak your diet in case something you’re eating is affecting the baby. Or if your baby is bottle-fed, you can consider changing to a different formula.
Try high-fibre solids
Some babies on solids respond well to a range of fibre-rich foods including, broccoli, pears, prunes and peeled apples.
“Some fruits and vegies like pears and broccoli are rich in fibre that will add bulk to your baby’s poo and stimulate their bowel motions.”
Puree the fibre
You can mash up or puree the foods we’ve listed above if your baby is over six months and still learning to chew.
Increase the milk and water
This is one of the best ways to help ease your baby’s tight tummy. Keeping them well hydrated, especially during the warmer months, is key for regular and smooth bowel movements. Once your baby has reached six months, you can start offering them cooled, boiled water in a cup at mealtimes or at other times during the day.
Gentle strokes on your baby’s lower abdomen is a relaxing way to stimulate their bowel. Try a few massages a day along with some skin-to-skin time to get your child’s digestive system back on track.
Baby bicycle kicks
Movement always helps speed up digestion for babies – and adults alike! Try gently bending your baby’s legs towards their chest in a cycling motion.
“A warm, soothing bath is a great way to relax your little one’s muscles and help relieve their constipation.”
No-nos for constipated babies
- No prune juice for infants under six months
- Don’t add sugars or rice cereal to formula
- No solids for babies under four-six months
- Constipation medication – unless prescribed by a GP.
This too, will pass
Your baby is a unique and new little human who comes with their own natural bowel movements and tendencies. And no one will know your baby quite like you do. This is particularly important when considering their bowel motions.
If your baby ‘goes’ every day, or once a week – that’s their normal. And, whether they’re breastfed or on formula, a baby’s habits will vary.
“It’s only constipation if your baby is in obvious pain or distress and their stools are hard.”
But, if you’re worried, remember it takes a village, so don’t try and find the answers on your own. Get in touch with your GP for any guidance and advice on constipation relief for your infant. Ask all the questions you need to. Worrying about your baby, especially when they’re so small and vulnerable is part of being a parent and totally normal.
However, you can take comfort in the fact that this often fretful time will pass. And, while you may not feel like it now, one day, when you’ve got a fully fledged, opinionated, hormonal teen on your hands, you may just look back fondly to the days of poo-on-the-brain (!).
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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