Constipation in Babies-Treatment, Causes


Constipation in babies is one of the most common conditions parents have had to deal with during the early years of their child’s life. Infant or child constipation cannot be defined by how many times the bowel movements are. There is no “standard” frequency applicable for all, rather, only what is normal for the child. Each baby’s pattern is unique; some may have movements after each feeding, while some can go a day or two without passing stools. The bowel movement of a baby depends on his/her food intake, metabolism, and activities.

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How can I tell if my baby is constipated?

Constipation in babies can be detected if the frequency of bowel movement has reduced from his/her normal. Also, you can determine if your baby is constipated by observing the consistency and size of your baby’s stools. If he/she is constipated, the stools are hard, dry, may be bigger or smaller than normal, and difficult to pass, causing them to strain and feel pain. Because of the pain, some children may withhold bowel movement to avoid getting hurt, which in turn prolongs constipation. Watery stool left on your baby’s diaper may be an indication that he/she is constipated, as these liquid stools may have slid beyond the hard stools that block the lower intestines.

When babies are constipated, you may also observe a decline in their food/milk intake, foul-smelling stools and frequent passing of gas, and discomfort.

What are the causes of constipation in babies?

Here are some of the reasons why your baby is constipated.

• Not enough fluid intake – When your child is dehydrated, her/his system reacts by absorbing all available fluids from whatever he/she ingests and from his/her wastes, hence causing dry, hard stools which are difficult to pass.

• Formula milk – Babies on formula are at higher risk of getting constipated than those who are breastfed exclusively, since breastmilk has the perfect ratio of protein and fat that produces soft stools even if bowel movement is less frequent. Formula milk, on the other hand, may contain something that makes your baby constipated. You should discuss with your pediatrician about changing brands.

• Starting on solids – When your baby is introduced to solid food, he/she could be mildly constipated, especially if rice cereal is given as this is low in fiber.

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• Health conditions – The common cold could cause constipation. The less common conditions that can bring about constipation are food allergies, hypothyroidism, botulism and certain metabolic disorders.

What are the treatments for constipation in babies?

• If using formula, give cooled, boiled water to baby in between feeding to increase fluid intake. Never dilute formula milk. You can also give prune juice diluted with water for babies older than 2 months.

• Make sure that the prepared formula is according to instructions, as overly-concentrated formula may cause constipation. Furthermore, you can try switching brands. Some do well with soy formula. Mixing a teaspoon of Karo corn syrup to the milk also helps.

• Gently massage your baby’s stomach with a little baby oil in a clockwise direction. Also, you can press gently on the baby’s belly about 3 finger-widths below the navel. Maintain a tender but steady pressure on the mass for about 3 minutes.

• When your baby has just started on solids, try oat or barley cereal instead of rice cereal. Adding pureed veggies and fruits is also recommended.

• When your baby is on a variety of solid foods, you can increase the fiber intake by adding bran. Loosen stools with apple or prune juice, pureed apricots, prunes and pear mixed into the cereal. Reduce intake of bananas, rice and carrots.

• Exercise your baby. Move his/her legs in a cycling motion to ease up any blockages. If she is a crawler, let her do some laps.

• Give warm baths to promote bowel movement.

• Some OTC stool softener can be used to make bowel movements easier for your baby. Never use laxatives unless your baby’s doctor approves of it. For severe constipation, glycerin suppositories can be used but not on a regular basis so as to prevent dependence on the suppository for bowel movements.

When your baby suffers from anal fissures or small tears on the skin near the anus’ opening, you can massage aloe vera lotion to promote healing. It is best that you mention this to your doctor when you consult him/her about constipation in babies.

Read about diarrhea in babies

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