By Lynn Shannon M Bailey
Despite all the silly jokes in radio comedies and TV sitcoms, baby constipation could hardly be described as a pleasant phenomenon. Constipation is no fun for anyone at all – especially not for a baby, who is in pain, and certainly not for the parents, who may not know the reason for their child’s distress and have no idea how to soothe their baby.
So what causes constipation in babies, and how do we deal with it?
The Signs of Constipation in Babies
Please note that most babies strain a little when they pass a bowel movement, even if they are breastfed. In fact, that is often your signal that you will soon have to change the next nappy! Also remember that if your baby is not passing stools too often, but seems relaxed when they do and the stools are not too hard or dry, this may simply be their pattern in the meantime. Obviously, if you are worried, you should never be too shy to ask your health care professional for advice.
Usually the most common time for a baby to suffer from constipation is soon after solids are introduced. That being said, here is a list of the signs of a constipated baby:
- If your newborn baby is passing solid stools less than once a day, this could technically be termed constipation. At the same time, if your baby seems to be suffering constant pain around making bowel movements, even if they are more frequent, or the stools seem very hard and dry, you should consult with your health care professional.
- If your baby is older, look out for stomach aches and irritability.
- Stomach pains that only seem to go away once the baby has passed a bowel movement
- A hard abdomen that only softens after a bowel movement
- Are your baby’s stools more reminiscent of those passed by a rabbit, i.e. very hard, dry, and deep brown?
- Does your baby have bloody stools, caused by fissures in the rectum, created from the effort involved in passing such hard feces? Please note that a small cut or tear in the anus can actually cause constipation. The baby feels pain when trying to pass a bowel movement, and this may cause them to associate defecation with pain. For this reason, the baby will “hold on” the next time. This will lead to even more constipation, making the situation even worse.
If, indeed, your baby is constipated, you should not simply give them syrup of figs or any other laxative and hope it goes away. You must consult with your health care professional to find out the best and safest way to treat this problem without making any rash decisions or using any “old wives remedies.”
That being said, there are certain preventative measures that you can take to avoid the development of constipation in a baby. These measures depend on whether you are talking about newborn constipation in a newborn or in an older baby.
To begin with, as mentioned above, newborn constipation is quite rare, especially if your baby is breastfed. It is more likely to occur, if anything, among formula-fed babies. However, in the rare cases that constipation does occur in a breastfed baby, it may possibly be because the baby is not receiving enough milk. If this may be the case, you should consult your doctor or health care professional.
If the baby is formula fed and is suffering constipation, it is very possible that the formula has not been mixed properly. It is possible that there is not enough water and too much powder in the bottle. Here is a list of questions to ask yourself in order to find a possible cause of your baby’s formula constipation.
Perhaps the wrong kind of scoop was used, or it was heaped too highly.
Did you remember to level off the scoop with a knife before putting the formula into the bottle?
Did you mistakenly put the powder into the bottle before the water, which can also create a situation where the proportions of water and powder are wrong?
Have you recently changed the baby’s formula? Did the baby just start with cow’s milk formula? Both of these changes can also cause constipation in a baby.
Recommended constipation treatment and preventative measures for an older infant are as follows:
Add a small amount of bran to your baby’s cereal to add fiber. It is advisable to ask your health care provider before you do so, however, because overdoing it could have the opposite effect!
Some people recommend giving the baby prune juice. Once again, this should only be done in conjunction with medical advice as this could also have the effect of “dynamite and broken bottles” if overdone.
Lack of fluids can be a very basic cause of constipation. Make sure that your baby is drinking enough fluids, especially in the summer or if you live in a hot country.
Look into the solid foods that your baby is eating. How many bananas? How much rice? Maybe you need to cut down on some of these and introduce the baby to more fruits and vegetables instead.
If all else fails, and your baby is really upset, try moving their legs up and down to see if this will “nudge” the solid matter slightly further along the intestine and ease the pain.
Try a gentle tummy massage, rubbing in a clockwise direction.
Another form of constipation relief is a warm bath, which can help the necessary muscles relax. Don’t be upset if the baby ends up passing the stool while in the bath. At least the pain and discomfort will be relieved!
Constipation need not become an obsession or constant worry. After all, many adults will have an odd episode of constipation here and there without it being the sign of serious condition. Obviously, if you are taking all the correct measures but your baby is still chronically constipated, this is a matter that needs to be discussed with your doctor. But if you are providing your baby with a healthy diet and enough fluids, your baby should continue to be healthy and you will not need to worry overly about baby constipation.
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